FirstGov opens storefront

FirstGov home page

Want to buy some ferrochromium from the national defense stockpile?

How about used firefighter's breathing apparatus?

Or a royal blue flight suit from the Kennedy Space Center (children's sizes only)?

All this and much, much more is available in a few clicks of a mouse on a newly organized shopping "gateway" on the federal government's Internet portal,

A hot button labeled "For Sale!" -- the first item in a list of FirstGov's "online services for citizens" -- leads shoppers to a world of government retailing and auctions. Bids are accepted for autos and aircraft seized by the Customs Service, the Internal Revenue Service and the U.S. Marshals. Stamps and coins are for sale from the Postal Service and the U.S. Mint. Souvenirs are hawked by dozens of government entities, from the U.S. Supreme Court to the National Zoo.

The quantity of commerce isn't new, but the neat arrangement of so many government goods into a single online mall and auction house is. The "Shopping and Auctions" page is designed to make it much easier to locate what used to be scores of widely scattered online shops.

The new page is part of the Bush administration's e-government initiative and is "the first milestone" in an effort to better organize electronic sales of government assets, according to officials at the General Services Administration, which operates the FirstGov site.

FirstGov provides a number of other pages also designed especially to provide easy navigation to government services. A "GovBenefits" page helps users find government assistance according to their needs and qualifications. A page for birth and marriage certificates provides addresses and Internet links to state agencies that provide copies of vital records. And a similar page guides users to the appropriate state agencies for driver's licenses and vehicle registrations.

The new shoppers' page and the others "are encouraging because they treat citizens the way government ought to treat citizens," said Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet and American Life Project.

"In too many instances, citizens have to bear the burden of figuring out how the government works," Rainie said. "They have to know the acronyms, they have to figure out how different departments work" in order to take advantage of services the government offers, from job training to help with housing to employment. But the shoppers' page and similar pages eliminate that burden, he said.

By arranging information and services in a way that makes it easy to find, "the government is acting in service of the people," rather than in service of itself, he said.

The Shopping and Auctions page should also open the government sales and auction process to more participants, he said. In the past, government auctions "were kind of an insiders' club," he said.

"As a citizen and a consumer, I'm glad more people will know what's available and get to bid on it," Rainie said.


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