Data from the U.S. General Services Administration shows that larger counties are far more likely to participate in the .gov program than smaller ones, and certain states have barely touched it.
The federal government’s .gov program is meant to give extra credibility to government websites at all levels by adding a layer of validation to the process of setting up an online presence.
But it appears that most local governments don’t use the program, and jurisdictions with fewer people are far less likely to participate than larger ones. Participation levels also vary widely by state.
Recently, the cybersecurity firm McAfee released a data set focusing on website encryption and .gov status for county websites in selected electoral battleground states. Since the U.S. General Services Administration maintains a public list of all .gov domains, Government Technology expanded on the McAfee data by analyzing all county websites on the GSA list. See the bottom of this article for notes on the data.
After removing websites that resolve to the same address and excluding special-purpose websites such as those for sheriff’s departments and local elections boards, the list contained websites for 683 counties. The Census Bureau lists 3,091 counties and county equivalents in the U.S., not including independent cities, so that means the .gov registry contains websites for about 22 percent of all counties.
By dividing the counties into population groups and dividing the number of counties on the .gov registry by the total number of counties in that population range, one can see that larger counties are far likelier to take advantage of the program than smaller ones. The same appears to be true for website encryption.
The data also shows that counties in certain states are far likelier to participate in the .gov program. Only one South Dakota county out of the state’s 66 is on the list, for example, while 49 of Tennessee’s 95 counties are featured.
While the GSA list is comprehensive, and updated every two weeks according to the agency’s website, it contains many website URLs that don’t work. To validate the data, Government Technology took a random sample of 68 websites — roughly 10 percent of all counties on the list — and checked each one. Of those, 12 did not lead to a functioning website. Several more redirected to non-.gov domains.
For these reasons, the data and charts in this article shouldn’t be treated as a list of which counties have working .gov websites, but rather as a list of counties that went through the .gov validation process at some point.
The GSA .gov registry data was accessed on Feb. 6, 2020. County population estimates are from the Census Bureau's 2018 numbers.