White House Answers Your Questions Online

Has the president had a flu shot? Is the military budget adequate? Will six-year-old refugee Elian Gonzalez be sent back to Cuba?

Americans are asking questions, and now the Clinton administration is posting answers online.

"Ask the White House" is a new feature developed by the Clinton administration and America Online that lets Internet users submit questions and then read answers to the five most frequently asked questions each week.

In the week beginning Dec. 3, questions came in from 803 Internet users, according to America Online. The top concern was health care. Thirty-nine percent of the questions dealt with medical matters, especially the rising cost of prescription drugs.

Military readiness and the failed Mars mission interested 17 percent of the questioners. Fourteen percent asked about Hillary Clinton's Senate race, and 10 percent wanted to know about the 6-year-old Cuban boy rescued last month from the Atlantic Ocean off the Florida coast.

Although it's billed as "the people's press conference," the questions are answered by the White House press office and policy specialists, not directly by the president, said White House spokeswoman Victoria Valentine.

In addition to the White House replies, viewers can click on a link to Republican responses. For now, however, viewers are transferred to a page that informs them that "Congress is currently out of session and will return in January," when answers from the Republican leadership are expected to be posted.

Although it is run by America Online, "Ask the White House" is available to all Internet users at http://askgov.aol.com/. Eventually, the feature is expected to be available through several other news sites as well, Valentine said.

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