No weak links for FirstGov
- By William Matthews
- Jan 21, 2001
The square blue and white, dishwasher-safe Cantonese porcelain serving
dish: $25. The 1995 Bell 206L IV Helicopter: minimum bid, $805,000.
Information on health subjects ranging from Alzheimer's disease to vaccinations:
From the Smithsonian Institution online gift shop to the U.S. Marshals
Service seized-property auction to the National Institutes of Health, the
governmentwide Internet portal FirstGov is striving to provide the public
easier access to more government services and benefits.
"Each day we are adding new sites and new services," said Deborah Diaz,
who oversees the four-month-old portal from her post in the Office of Govern-ment-wide
Policy at the General Services Administration.
In appearance, the FirstGov portal (www.firstgov.gov) hasn't changed
substantially since it was launched Sept. 22. But in substance, the portal
has bulked up.
One of the newest features is a page full of hot links to sites where
viewers can conduct transactions online with government agencieswhether
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, for promoting the arts, for temporarily
helping needy families, for business development and for scores of other
The page includes a search function to help grant seekers find grant
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 a portal, FirstGov does not contain much information itself, but
serves as an online index to thousands of other government Web sites that
offer information and services.
As expected, most FirstGov visitors use the portal to navigate to other
government sites that provide benefits as varied as education loans, Social security payments, job listings and patent applications, said Diaz, who
is deputy associate administrator of FirstGov. But FirstGov is also "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 has also upgraded its search engine, which is linked to more
than 27 million pages the federal government has put on the Internet. Early
criticism of the search engine was that it returned too many pages. 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 pages; critics claimed
they were drowning in the deluge of information.
A new advanced search function helps fine-tune searches further, and
an "exact phrase" search for "strategic oil reserve" turned up a more manageable