Portals funding includes home-buying site

With at least 10 federal agencies owning homes, the federal government is the nation's largest landlord. But it doesn't want to be.

A new Web portal should help the government unload the houses that it gets stuck with after owners default on loans or that it seizes while prosecuting crimes.

The E-Government Committee of the federal CIO Council has approved spending $1.2 million on seven new government Web portals, including $225,000 for one called the Virtual Home Center that is designed to bring together real estate sellers and buyers.

The portal will target "those most underserved by the private-sector [real estate] market," says a description written by the committee. The target audience includes prospective buyers who lack money for down payments, face discrimination, or have poor credit histories or significant debts.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development will head the portal development effort, starting by compiling a complete list of federal homes for sale by agencies ranging from the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Drug Enforcement Administration to the Internal Revenue Service.

The portal will also offer extensive instructions on how to buy a home, including an online tutorial to guide would-be buyers through the home-buying process.

The portal is also intended to save the government money. The quicker agencies can sell the homes they own, the sooner they can stop paying for maintenance, repairs and insurance.

The E-Government Committee and other e-government experts promote Web portals as a way to make it easier for citizens to find related information and services on the Internet even though they are offered by scattered agencies.

To merit funding, the committee said proposals for portals had to be innovative; involve multiple agencies; offer public interest and benefit to the largest possible base of users; be doable in a short time; cut government costs; and increase efficiency.

From 17 proposals, the crossagency working group selected seven portals and a "common portal builder tool" as worthy of funding. Projects include:

* A portal that locates services and information for senior citizens with disabilities.

* A portal to direct low-income Americans to financial aid and other assistance from 61 programs in five departments and 14 agencies.

* Science.gov, which would make scientific and technical information available to the public in one location.

The portal projects

These are the eight proposals that received funding from the CIO Council:

Proposal Funding Service Locator Study (seniors) $220,000

Common Portal Builder Tool $280,000

Virtual Home Center $225,000

Low Income $200,000

Science.gov Deep Web Search $90,000

Science.gov database for browse function $85,000

MapStats for Kids $90,000

Volunteers $10,000

Total funding $1,200,000

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