Fast ready to rev up FirstGov

At last, Fast.

The Norwegian search engine bought to find information on the federal government's Internet portal, FirstGov, is finally ready for service. It is to be formally unveiled June 3 by Stephen Perry, administrator of the General Services Administration.

The engine, built by Fast Search & Transfer of Oslo, Norway, is expected to yield more relevant and more complete search results from more than 51 million federal and state pages now on the Internet.

Originally scheduled to begin operating March 31, the Fast search engine was delayed for two months because GSA decided to buy and install new switching servers for the search engine, according to a senior GSA official. GSA is the agency that operates FirstGov.

The new engine is supposed to be able to search through government Web pages in a wide variety of formats, including PDF, HTML, Extensible Markup Language, plain text and Microsoft Corp. PowerPoint, Excel and Word.

In addition, the Fast engine is to be capable of searching through government databases, according to Deborah Diaz, GSA's associate administrator for FirstGov. "So there's a plethora of information and services available throughout government that will now be available to citizens," Diaz said in an April interview.

Fast, which also supplies search capabilities to such Web sites as eBay, IBM Corp. and Reuters news service, replaces Inktomi Corp. as FirstGov's search engine provider. The Fast engine is being supplied by AT&T Business Services, which is to be paid $2 million a year for up to five years.

GSA's choice of Fast in March generated complaints from a number of losing bidders who said U.S.-based search engine companies could have provided the same service at less cost. Diaz and other GSA officials have refused to explain in detail why the Fast engine was selected, but insist it offers the government the "best value."

Spokesmen at AT&T and Fast Search & Transfer say they are prohibited from discussing the matter by terms of the contract with GSA.

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