A Brief History of the Office of Products and Programs
A brief history of the Office of Products and Programs is hard to write: our work spans five decades and nine administrations!
What was established in 1970 as a place to coordinate and deliver information to consumers has evolved tremendously. Our audience has expanded to include every federal agency, government employees at all levels, the private sector, and people all over the world.
Today, our mission is to help the public use and understand government, and help agencies understand and serve the public. To achieve this, we create, discover, connect and share practical solutions and products that transform government.
We offer cross-government products and programs that help agencies deliver modern services to the public. And we maintain the front door to the federal government via USA.gov, GobiernoUSA.gov, and the USAGov Contact Center.
What we do today builds on the efforts of many dedicated employees who served before us. While we can only offer a glimpse of their work below, we appreciate all the ways in which they built the foundation.
Walk-In, Order, or Call: Providing Gov Information 1966 - 1990
In 1970, President Nixon’s Executive Order 11566 created the Consumer Product Information Coordinating Center. The office was tasked with helping federal agencies get their consumer-friendly information in print and into the hands of the public.
But the roots of our work reach even further back. GSA was already the administrative home of a nationwide network of 26 Federal Information Centers which people could visit in person. These centers, generally located in the lobbies of federal buildings, answered government questions from the public. (Yes, you’ve read this correctly: once upon a time, you could show up to an assortment of government buildings to get your questions answered!)
The centers were first established in 1966, were formalized in 1978, and were merged with our office in 2000. They gradually moved from providing in-person service locally to answering questions by telephone nationally—a bilingual service which still exists today as the USAGov Contact Center at 1-844-USA-GOV1 and via chat and email.
Another primary vehicle to connect the public and government was the Consumer Information Catalog. It listed more than 200 popular publications from across the federal government on diverse topics that are still relevant today: saving for college and retirement, avoiding fraud, staying healthy, and learning about federal laws and regulations that affect daily lives.
The Catalog was crucial: imagine getting quality government information on those topics in the pre-Internet age! We published the first edition of the Catalog in 1971, and the final edition in 2016. In 45 years, we filled more than 76 million orders and distributed more than 1.2 billion publications.
Entering the Digital Age: 1990s - 2000
The Catalog was our first foray into the online world: in 1992, we created an electronic bulletin board system to allow anyone with a modem to dial up and download the publications listed in the Catalog.
We launched our first website in 1994, also based on the Catalog: Pueblo.gsa.gov (which later became Publications.USA.gov). It was one of the first consumer information websites and received more than one million visits during its first year.
In 1997, the White House gave us responsibility for one of the most helpful and popular federal publications: the Consumer’s Resource Handbook. Released biannually since 1979, it was renamed the Consumer Action Handbook in 2000 and was later joined by a Spanish version, the Guía del Consumidor. Both publications empower people to resolve their own consumer complaints.
Expanding Our Digital Presence: 2000 - 2010
USA.gov got its start as FirstGov.gov in June 2000 when President Clinton announced the gift of a powerful search engine from internet entrepreneur Eric Brewer. Clinton called for us to use it to create and launch an official U.S. web portal within 90 days.
In 2001 we added Kids.gov, filled with children’s content and lesson plans. And in 2003 we launched the official Spanish language portal, FirstGov en español. The FirstGov sites got more memorable names in 2007: USA.gov and GobiernoUSA.gov. Both continue as the official guides to government information, benefits, and services.
Starting in 2002, we managed WebContent.gov, a one-stop resource for government web professionals who needed information about requirements, best practices, usability, and new technologies. Its training program, Web Manager University, offered practical training for managers of federal, state, and local government websites. These two services are the predecessors of today’s DigitalGov and DigitalGov University.
Hitting 40 and Looking Beyond the Web: 2010 - 2015
At the turn of the decade, our efforts began expanding beyond web content and information dissemination.
Challenge.gov, the official site for federal prize and challenge competitions, launched in 2010. The same year, Search.gov expanded from powering the USA.gov search box to being offered as a government-wide shared service.
In 2011, FedRAMP began providing government a standardized approach to security assessment, authorization, and continuous monitoring for cloud products and services.
The 2012 Digital Government Strategy asked agencies to “use modern tools and technologies to seize the digital opportunity and fundamentally change how the Federal Government serves both its internal and external customers – building a 21st century platform to better serve the American People.” This presidential strategy spurred the creation of more products and services.
And, we kept pace with the rise of smartphones: the Mobile Testing Program, a compatibility testing service that agencies can use to test their websites for mobile-friendliness, began in 2013.
An Eye to the Future: 2015 - present
In recent years, we’ve established and grown many crucial government-wide products and programs:
- 10x: provides start-up funding for new technology projects and products across government (2016)
- CitizenScience.gov: a hub for accelerating crowdsourcing and citizen science across the U.S. government (2016)
- Code.gov: a catalog of government developed code (2016)
- Communities of Practice: where people in government come together to learn, share and collaborate to build solutions to common problems and challenges. The longest running community, the Web Content Managers Forum, dates back to 2000. New communities are created as new technologies and opportunities arise.
- Emerging Citizen Technology Office: coordinates interagency initiatives that evaluate, test, and develop emerging technologies including artificial intelligence, blockchain, virtual/augmented reality, and social technologies (2017)
- U.S. Digital Registry: an inventory of official government social media accounts, mobile websites and apps (2016)
- U.S. Web Design System: set of guidelines and code for agencies to create fast, accessible, mobile-friendly websites. Created by 18F and the U.S. Digital Service in 2015. Maintained by our office since 2017.
Over the past 50 years, we’ve grown and expanded while remaining true to our mission. We’ll continue to evolve as we anticipate and meet future needs. We look forward to the next 50 years of serving the public and our partners!