Portal will help e-gov click

FirstGov home page

President Clinton's first-ever Web-cast on June 24 marked the dawn of a new era in electronic government. The initiatives he presented will set in motion a series of events that will transform the way government delivers services to its constituents.

The first and perhaps most powerful idea is the FirstGov.gov Web portal — a one-stop, comprehensive index for locating and retrieving the information within 100 million pages of information published by the federal government on the Internet.

FirstGov is a gift from Eric Brewer, one of the founders of Inktomi Corp. Inktomi is the "index" inside the most popular information portals on the Internet. It processes more than 70 million queries a day against its 500 million pages of information, each in less than a quarter of a second. The technology even allows the searching of pages that lack metatags or data descriptors — a prevalent problem among federal Web pages. The General Services Administration hopes FirstGov will become the index inside all information portals that wish to search for government information.

The fundamental concept behind FirstGov is that the first use of government information should be free to all Americans. That means people should be able to access all government- published information in a manner that maintains the integrity of the information, protects citizens' privacy as they search and provides the service at no cost — including no use of intrusive banner advertising.

That concept will be encouraged through a FirstGov "brand." Within days, the Commerce Business Daily will publish the conditions of the brand and solicit feedback from potential industry partners. All companies that comply with the brand requirements will be allowed to display the brand on their Web sites. The objective is to leverage the innovation of the private sector to make citizens' information searches quick and hassle-free.

In the longer term, making all of the government's published information available likely will result in pressure to align agencies' regulatory and enforcement roles. Citizens presented with conflicting information from agencies will demand that we rationalize and streamline our bureaucracy.

We should earnestly begin developing virtual organizations that operate horizontally across the federal government, as Access America has done. That is the Internet Age organizational model, and we should begin broadly implementing it — now.

At the very least, FirstGov should result in more traffic and greater scrutiny of information published on federal Web sites. What every department, bureau and agency should do now is clean up all existing Web sites. Ensure that every link is good, that every page has an owner and that all pages present a consistent, professional appearance. Take advantage of the Section 508 accessibility requirements to review all sites and pages.

We may not be able to change the way the government is organized, but at least we can make sure that it looks as if it is. FirstGov is our first step.

—Piatt is the chief information officer at the General Services Administration.

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