FirstGov fine-tunes offerings

A blue-and-white, dishwasher-safe Cantonese porcelain serving dish: $25.

A 1995 Bell 206L IV helicopter: minimum bid $805,000.

Information on health subjects ranging from Alzheimer's disease to infant vaccinations: priceless.

From the Smithsonian Museum online gift shop to the U.S. Marshals Service seized-property auction to the National Institutes of Health, FirstGov is striving to offer people easier access to more government services and benefits.

"Each day we are adding new sites and new services," said Deborah Diaz, who oversees the 4-month-old portal from her post in the Office of Governmentwide Policy at the General Services Administration.

In appearance, the portal (at hasn't changed substantially since its Sept. 22 launch. But in substance, the portal has bulked up.

One of the newest features is a page of links to sites where viewers can conduct online transactions with government agencies—whether it is shopping at the Smithsonian, submitting a trademark application, obtaining a passport or comparing the quality of nursing home services.

Another new page whisks viewers to a "governmentwide compendium" of federal grants, loans and other forms of assistance. Financial assistance is offered for rural economic development, promoting the arts, temporary helping of needy families, business development and scores of other causes.

The page includes a search function to help grant seekers find grant providers.

There are also new links to federal business opportunities, a long list of links to state and local government resources and more extensive links to congressional sites and the federal courts.

As expected, most FirstGov users use the portal to navigate to other government sites that provide benefits, Diaz said. But FirstGov also is acting as a "window" that provides a glimpse of other government services. "People come here looking for one thing and see other stuff that's interesting, too," she said.

GSA had been planning to relaunch the site with improvements in late December, but abandoned that idea in favor of adding new content and improved Web pages as they became available, Diaz said.

FirstGov also upgraded its search engine, which is linked to more than 27 million federal Internet pages. Early criticism of the search engine was that it returned too many results. A search for "oil," for example, turned up 302,251 Web pages. Even a more specific search for "strategic oil reserve" turned up 8,424.

A new advanced search function helps fine-tune searches, and an "exact phrase" search for "strategic oil reserve" turned up a more manageable 66 matches.


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