This is clearly a step forward for Government transparency, but not yet a victory. As they say: the devil is in the details.
The logical approach to satisfy this new mandate would be for Federal Web teams to implement the "Sitemap Protocol" that Google and other companies have backed. However, it is unlikely to be so simple.
The law rightly does not dictate how .gov web sites are to be made more accessible to search engines. Unfortunately, this means it will be up to a Federal working group to define policies for how their sites will meet the law. Many Feds are qualified to do this, but conflicting interests may interfere with the spirit of the law. Consider what happened to one of the mandates of the original E-Gov Act.
Two possible points of failure include:
Lack of Accountability—Agencies frequently skirt existing Web mandates, so what will make them comply with this one? Without a strong push from Agency executives, this mandate will be ignored wherever it is inconvenient. The compliance reports in this Bill are a good start, but agencies should also be required to post these compliance reports online for the public to see.
Inappropriate Compliance Metrics—This Bill does a good job to require compliance reporting, but if done wrong, it will be the student checking his own homework. Good, objective metrics to measure "accessibility to search engines" are not necessarily trivial to determine. In this case, search experts should be consulted to determine the metrics.
I am excited about the E-Gov Reauthorization Act for its ability to improve the searchability and findability of Government information. I just hope that the implementation is faithful to the law Congress passes.