GSA moving to open WebGov portal

The General Services Administration plans within a month to hire a company

or group of companies to construct WebGov and to have the long-awaited governmentwide

Internet portal in operation this fall.

The portal is intended to make it easier for average Internet users to find

government information that is now scattered across thousands of agency

World Wide Web pages.

The goal is to have the portal "link to every federal page on the Web,"

said Tom Freebairn, WebGov project director. However, GSA will initially

ask agencies to identify only their 10 to 20 most frequented Web sites so

the portal can link to them, Freebairn said.

WebGov has been estimated to cost $5 million to $20 million to develop,

Freebairn told a gathering of federal Web masters on Thursday. GSA hopes

to keep costs toward the lower estimate, he said.

Individual companies and teams of companies are expected to present portal

construction proposals to GSA next month. To win a contract to construct

the federal portal, builders will have to be able to create Web pages, set

up and operate a server farm, create and maintain databases and operate

"spiders" that will search the Internet for government data and record its

address and contents in a database to be used by the portal's search engine.

WebGov is expected to work "very much like Yahoo," Freebairn said. The builders

will probably develop new search tools for it and create topic trees that

will make it possible to search across agencies for information that is

related by subject matter, he said. "We have to figure out ways to harvest

information" so people can access it more easily, Freebairn said.

Planning for WebGov began at least two years ago but lacked momentum until

President Clinton endorsed the idea in December 1999. The president suggested

that government information would be easier to find if it was no longer

organized according to the agencies that maintain it but "by the type of

service or information that people may be seeking."

Organizing information in that way may do more than just simplify searches,

it might create new avenues for government reform, Freebairn said. A search

for information on exporting regulations, for example, might turn up conflicting

regulations imposed by the multiple agencies.

Similarly, more than 40 federal agencies administer grants, but few follow

the same procedures. With access to information on grants made easier by

the portal, agencies might be encouraged to adopt common practices.

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