City's Internet innovation honored

A program that brings free Internet access to a city's residents, the FirstGov

Web portal and a child welfare program are technology projects selected

as finalists for the Innovations in American Government Awards.

State and local government finalists include the Internet TV Initiative

in LaGrange, Ga., in which the city offers broadband Internet and e-mail

capabilities to every household free of charge via cable television. Another

winner is Oklahoma's OK-FIRST project, which enables local public-safety

officials to make informed decisions in bad weather through a decision-support

system with real-time weather data.

The awards presented annually by the Institute for Government Innovation

at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government in partnership

with the Council for Excellence in Government recognize programs that

demonstrate excellence and creativity in government. A dozen state and local

government projects were also selected as finalists. Not all of the award

finalists are technology-related.

The FirstGov portal was cited because it creates a single entry point

for gaining access to multiple government Web sites that provide information

and services.

The portal provides instant access to 47 million federal and state Web

pages that permit functions as varied as applying for student loans, searching

for jobs, renewing driver's licenses and filing taxes.

According to award officials, the portal is changing the way government

leaders think about online services.

Programs selected as finalists are awarded $20,000 each. Five winning

programs will be selected Oct. 17 and will receive $100,000 each.

Another federal finalist is the Child Welfare Outcomes Initiative run

by the Department of Health and Human Services' Children's Bureau. The HHS

initiative is credited with helping increase adoptions by 64 percent since

1996 and working with federal officials to uncover strengths and shortcomings

of child welfare programs.

The third federal finalist was the Department of Veterans Affairs' National

Center for Patient Safety. The 4-year-old center encourages health care

workers to report errors and close calls so that medical centers can study

them and learn from the mistakes.

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