Legislation Creates Domain Standard for Government Agencies

Published On: April 28, 2023

Currently, there is no uniform web domain for government entities. Whether it’s gov, com, or net, they lack standardization.

Assemblymember Jacqui Irwin aims to change that with Assembly Bill 1637, which proposes that all California agencies must maintain or change their domain to “.gov” or “.ca.gov” no later than Jan. 1, 2026.

The lack of a standardized domain creates confusion amongst visitors and may even result in their being lured into a fraudulent website that could trick them into sharing personal information.

“The problem is that it is a trivial matter for a fraudulent actor to obtain a domain name that is similar to that of an existing local governmental agency, also using a non-.gov top level domain, and set up a fake website at that domain,” the bill reads. “A fake site could also spread misinformation, such as providing erroneous dates and addresses for voting sites or touting the supposed dangers of vaccines.”

Local government entities can obtain .gov and .ca.gov domains via instructions provided by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, or the California Department of Technology (CDT). 

There is no annual fee involved with maintaining a “.ca.gov” or “.gov” domain.

While the bill’s proponents back AB 1637 as a means of cybersecurity, most of its opponents have pushed back on the basis of cost. 

“Switching our website and email addresses would create an unnecessary, costly issue for cities and would direct public resources away from serving residents in other ways. This unfunded mandate is not the best use of limited local resources during a time of fiscal instability and uncertainty,” wrote the City Clerks Association of California. 

The City Clerks Association also believes that the transition to a new domain would involve a wholesale branding transition and could, in turn, weaken public trust and “could compromise local communities’ trust in their local leaders and would only add to the frustration in transparent and user-focused government administration.”

As for the actual migration to a .gov domain, that process would require steps like cloning the site, redirecting the previous address to the new one, and issuing a press release.

Some local government entities who supported the bill said the process might take its hosting provider and one full-time employee “a small number of days” to convert their site, while an opponent said the process might take up to 14 months and run up a bill of close to $1 million.

About the Author: Will Keys

Will Keys writes about technology issues for the GovReport. He is a graduate of the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno. He can be reached at will at govreport.org