GovBenefits launches first phase

GovBenefits.gov

The Labor Department and the Office of Management and Budget launched the GovBenefits Web site April 29, representing the first e-government initiative conceived by the Quicksilver interagency task force to reach initial operating capability.

This first version of the Web site (www.GovBenefits.gov) has information on 55 benefits programs from 10 federal agencies that distribute about $1 trillion in benefits payments. Over the next year and a half, it will expand to more than 300 programs from federal, state and local agencies, said D. Cameron Findlay, deputy secretary of Labor, the managing partner agency for the initiative.

"This is a very important initiative. It's one that will help citizens break down the artificial barriers in our government," he said.

The GovBenefits initiative and Web site are models for how the other e-government initiatives will come into being under the Bush administration's E-Government Strategy, said Mark Forman, assistant director for information technology and e-government at OMB. All of the initiatives will start with "an initial look at a tool that makes government uncomplicated," and will move into the full operating capability over time, he said.

Several other e-government initiatives should be released in their initial version late in May, and one possibly will be released in early June, Forman said.

The GovBenefits site follows the "three clicks to service" model laid out by the FirstGov governmentwide Web portal and is organized "the way citizens see the world," Findlay said. The site is intended for citizens to use directly or indirectly through caseworkers, citizen groups or agencies reached via a toll-free call center, he said.

Citizens first choose from a list of potential beneficiary categories, and those choices determine the yes-or-no questions the site poses to match the users to the programs for which they might be eligible. Once that is determined, the site displays the description of those programs and contact information at the appropriate agency.

The questions are written in plain English by the program offices at the agencies, including the Social Security Administration, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

So far Labor and its team have spent about $1 million on the initiative, including money provided by OMB from the cross-agency e-government fund, Findlay said.

Phase 2 for the initiative is to enable online application for the benefits programs, but that is much more complex and involves many legal issues, such as collecting personal information from citizens, Hugler said. That phase will not start until the description and contract information for most of the benefits programs are included on the site, he said.

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