FirstGov search misses deadline

Search not for the new FirstGov search engine. It's going to arrive late.

AT&T Business Services and its Norwegian search engine partner, Fast Search & Transfer, failed to meet the March 31 deadline for installing the new $10.5 million search engine on the federal government's Internet portal.

So the General Services Administration, which runs FirstGov, has signed a contract to pay about $18,000 a month for the Inktomi Corp. search engine that the site had been using for free since going online in September 2000. Free use of the Inktomi engine was a gift to the government from founder Eric Brewer.

Under terms of a contract awarded March 7, the AT&T and Fast Search engine was to be "ready for implementation by March 31." However, a search of the Web site April 1 produced no sign of the new engine.

"It's taking longer to move equipment into place [than expected]," GSA spokeswoman Eleni Martin said. She was unable to say when the new engine is now scheduled to go online. FirstGov officials were unavailable for comment and representatives from AT&T and Fast Search & Transfer did not return phone calls for this report.

The new search engine is expected to do a better job of finding and returning federal and state government documents on the Internet. The current Inktomi search engine has been criticized for overwhelming its users with too many search results and for retrieving documents that match the search terms but are not relevant to the context of the search.

The Fast Search engine is supposed to do a better job of sorting documents by relevance. For example, the engine will be able to display search results by category, subject and agency, according to GSA.

GSA's choice of a foreign search engine company has sparked controversy among domestic bidders for the contract. At least two American-based search engine companies demanded "debriefings" in which they questioned GSA contracting officials about the award to Fast Search.

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