FirstGov portal fine-tuned

The governmentwide Web portal, FirstGov, is being tested and fine-tuned

this week in preparation for public use later this month, according to the

General Services Administration.

Major development work was finished and software for the portal was delivered

to GSA Sept. 8, said Bill Piatt, chief information officer of GSA, the agency

overseeing FirstGov's development.

President Clinton is expected to officially launch the site, promising June

24 that it would be ready for operation in 90 days or less. At the time,

Clinton called FirstGov the "single point of entry to one of the largest — perhaps the most useful — collection of Web pages in the entire world."

The portal is designed to make it easier to find the information the federal

government has posted on the World Wide Web. That capabilitiy, Piatt and

other senior government officials said, will be a key step toward offering

more government services online.

FirstGov's central feature is a powerful search engine linked to an index

of all government Web pages. Besides making information easier to find,

the portal will direct users to government agencies that offer services

online, such as electronic application forms for loans and benefits, Piatt

said. In that way, FirstGov should increase the use of online services and

encourage agencies to develop more, he said.

Even as final testing of FirstGov got under way, the Web site's designers

were planning improvements, Piatt said. A second, more advanced version

of the portal is being prepared for release in mid or late December, he

said, and a third version is planned for March.

GSA will rely heavily on the public's suggestions to improve the portal's

usefulness, and "until people start using it, they won't know what they

want," he said.

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