Department of Homeland Security: The Case for a "Shared Platform" Approach

To better fulfill its mission to increase disaster preparedness in the U.S., the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) decided to migrate its public-facing website from a proprietary CMS (Teamsite) and onto a new, modernized, and open source platform.  DHS selected Drupal as this new CMS platform, and the OpenPublic distribution was an important part of standardizing the agency’s migration to Drupal. The new site was launched in August 2012, and took roughly 4 months to design, develop, and deploy.

To better fulfill its mission to increase disaster preparedness in the U.S., the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) decided to migrate its public-facing website from a proprietary CMS (Teamsite) and onto a new, modernized, and open source platform.  DHS selected Drupal as this new CMS platform, and the OpenPublic distribution was an important part of standardizing the agency’s migration to Drupal. The new site was launched in August 2012, and took roughly 4 months to design, develop, and deploy.

The new DHS.gov site is a huge success for DHS, it's also another big milestone for open source in government.  One of the main reasons for the site’s success is that it leveraged the existing FEMA.gov platform (which was developed on OpenPublic), giving it a jump start toward a finished product.  DHS.gov is a case study for the concept of a “Shared Platform” approach, as outlined in the Digital Government Strategy (and embodied in earlier materials, such as the “Shared First” principles).

The DHS.gov Requirements

Above all, DHS wanted a re-vamped website that improved their web content operations by providing the following:

  • Improved administrative interface
  • Upgraded technology
  • Enhanced functionality

Also, a goal of this project was to extend the existing FEMA.gov platform to better enable the various DHS subcomponents (e.g., Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Transportation and Safety Administration) to get into the Drupal platform. This is a great example of promoting shared solutions throughout an agency in a very concrete way. With this model, subcomponents that migrate onto the platform will promote an agency-wide web content “infrastructure” that is more easily and efficiently maintained.

Like all government sites, DHS had to comply with 508 compliance, FISMA, and cross-browser accessibility.

The Solution

DHS selected Drupal and they also selected the OpenPublic Drupal distribution since it provides ‘out-of-the-box’  enhanced features that would benefit DHS right out of the gate. For example:  a slideshow and carousel rotator, a streamlined administrative dashboard, and flexible customization. OpenPublic also provided important head starts on security and accessibility features that were requirements for the DHS.gov site.  Moreover, since OpenPublic is built on the Omega base theme, DHS can easily get onto responsive design and make its content much more mobile friendly.

On the public facing side, the topic based taxonomy implemented, provides an easy way to navigate to site content and enables users to view pertinent related content. On the administrative side, DHS.gov uses the Drupal Workbench module to handle content administration workflows. With many users and roles, Workbench allows users to quickly move content through workflow and allows editors and publishers to be notified easily when content is ready for their review.  Another distinguishing element of this site is the flexibility in creating "sidebar" content for article pages.  A user can cross-reference content easily using node references, creating external links, or add their own content to create a useful sidebar to articles featured on the site.

OpenPublic is built and maintained in a way that keeps an eye out on federal government web regulations - specifically requirements surrounding the Open Gov initiative  and the Federal Cloud Computing Initiative.  Since it's built on OpenPublic, it provides the security, accessibility and usability that federal government sites require.  And, because Drupal is an open source platform, it saves the federal government from having to maintain annual licensing fees for expensive, proprietary CMS’s.

It was a pleasure working with the DHS team, DHS’s adoption of Drupal and OpenPublic is representative of innovative government within the face of constrained resources.

Greg Wilson