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Boosting .Gov Adoption: Can a New, Quicker Process Help?

According to a Government Technology analysis of CISA data, only 42 percent of counties have registered .gov domains. Now that the federal government is making it easier than ever to get a .gov domain, will more agencies make the change?

Light and dark blue illuminated dots spelling out ".GOV"
A “record-breaking” number of government agencies applied for an official .gov domain in the first week of February following the launch of a new, fully digital application process according to the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency.

The top-level .gov domain marks an official online presence — one reserved for government agencies to help the public identify official, trusted information.

The updated registrar launch is a makeover of the old .gov application process and its tribulations. After pausing domain requests at the end of 2023, CISA reopened to applications on Jan. 31 with a new look and features.


Verification no longer requires a mailed, official letter and signature from an agency’s highest elected official. The fully digital process is estimated to take about 15 minutes and is just one element to the newly launched interface that’s been in the works since 2022.

“A lot of the big changes that were made really centered on increasing the quality of the user experience and making it easier for organizations, for governments to get a .gov,” said Alexander McElya, senior analyst and external communications lead of the .gov program for CISA, adding that the former verification process typically took weeks or longer. “Decreasing the barriers to entry and reducing the amount of friction in the process were our guiding stars with this.”

That doesn’t mean just anyone can grab a .gov domain. The new screening process asks most of the same questions as the old process, but in a digital format. Requesters must also be verified through, a secure sign-in service. It’s a change McElya said makes the adjudication process “much more authoritative.” Meanwhile, additional staff members are now eligible to file the application.

“We’ve broadened the scope for what it means to be an authorizing official now, in our rules if you’re the chief technology officer, city manager or chief administrator, you can be authorized as an authorizing official,” he said. “We’re hopeful that will increase people’s flexibility with this, that they won’t see the requirement and say, ‘Oh, I don’t even know how to get to that person.’ Instead, it’s, ‘I’m a senior official, I know this is a smart move, we can go ahead and submit this request and do that.’”


McElya was hired last year as part of the effort to create a more aggressive outreach than .gov has ever seen before. In the early days of the program, only federal government organizations could secure a .gov domain. In 2019, agencies could pay $400 a year to obtain a .gov domain. In 2021, management of the registry switched from the General Services Administration to CISA, and domains became free.

CISA has multiple adoption goals; one is to get all of the top 100 populated cities on a .gov domain. According to McElya, they’re less than 10 cities away from their goal. CISA is also working to get more counties on a .gov domain.


To determine which counties are using .gov, Government Technology analyzed the .gov domain data on the registrar from Jan. 31. Looking specifically at agencies who registered on the county level, we removed websites that resolved to the same address and excluded special-purpose websites such as for sheriffs, prosecutors, courts and local election boards.
According to the data, 1,337 distinct county governments had completed the .gov domain registration. The Census Bureau reports there are 3,144 counties in the U.S., therefore, the .gov registry contains websites for approximately 43 percent of all counties.

However, there are limitations to this data and analysis. Not all of the .gov domains on the registry are active or working. Some counties in the New England region do not have county-level governments that would operate websites. Additionally, a manual check of some counties who did not appear on the registry proved some of them do in fact have an active .gov domain — suggesting the data is incomplete and should be viewed only as a sample size rather than an exhaustive list.


A 2020 analysis of .gov domain data by Government Technology found less than one-fourth of counties had registered for the program, and that larger counties were far likelier to take advantage of .gov domains than those with smaller populations. That trend has continued into 2024, as at least 62 percent of counties with populations of 500,000 and above have .gov domains, compared to only 27 percent of counties with populations of 10,000 or less.
According to McElya, smaller counties may have a more difficult time making the transition for multiple reasons.

“Folks at smaller organizations just don’t have the technical capacity and knowledge to disambiguate DNS-related resources. They get a .gov and think, ‘Great, now where’s my website?’ It’s more complicated than that. I think that’s a big barrier,” he said. “Later this year, we’re hoping to at least get our prototype of DNS hosting out, which should make it a lot easier for these folks because that means they can manage almost all of their major DNS records within our platform, rather than having to go to two, three or four different platforms.”

McElya added that although the domains are free, the cost to migrate is not.

“Even though we don’t charge them a cent, that transition can be expensive, you’ve got to change your branding, you’ve got to inform your public, you’ve got to work with IT people that a lot of these organizations have to contract out work for,” he said.

There are small regional differences in adoption, and the Northeast is leading the charge migrating to .gov domains at 52 percent, while just 38 percent of counties in the South use .gov.


Migrating to a .gov domain is a key requirement for the State and Local Cybersecurity Grant Program.

“This grant program is a really, really phenomenal mouthpiece for us to say, ‘Not only are you eligible, but you’re eligible to get funded for that,” said McElya. “The grants program, I think, is a really phenomenal opportunity for them to write a road map and then fund that road map.”

As agencies work to gain resident trust and fight misinformation, and spoofing, CISA hopes more agencies will consider migrating to a top-level domain.

“We think .gov presents a really great opportunity to enhance public trust in our institutions and provide direct information to citizens unambiguously,” said McElya. “When folks see .gov, they can be confident that they’re looking at an actual source of information.”

More information about how to register for a .gov domain is available at
Nikki Davidson is a data reporter for Government Technology. She’s covered government and technology news as a video, newspaper, magazine and digital journalist for media outlets across the country. She’s based in Monterey, Calif.