Government 'Oscar' finalists picked

The Council for Excellence in Government

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Four of this year's 15 finalists for the prestigious Innovations in American Government Award announced today are technology-based programs and include the federal government's portal, FirstGov.

Each finalist receives $10,000 for replication and outreach and will compete for five $100,000 awards that will be decided May 7 in Washington, D.C. There were nearly 1,000 applicants for this year's award.

The Institute for Government Innovation at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government sponsors the annual award — started in 1986 to identify and promote public-sector creativity and excellence — in partnership with the Council for Excellence in Government.

"We like to think ourselves as the Oscars of government awards," said Sue Ducat, the council's communications director.

The newly updated FirstGov portal (www.firstgov.gov), which has been a finalist before, was again selected this year for being the nation's comprehensive, one-stop portal where citizens, businesses and employees can get information such as birth certificate copies, apply for a student loan or buy postage stamps.

The portal, administered by the General Services Administration, links to more than 180 million pages of information from federal, state, and local governments, and draws more than 1.4 million visitors a week.

New York City's advanced-technology mapping program, known as the Citywide Geographic Information Systems utility, was cited for providing critical information during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the anthrax threat and the West Nile virus outbreak. Managed by the Department of Information Technology Telecommunications, the program provides timely and accurate information from a wide range of data for all city agencies.

Another finalist, the Community-University Information Initiatives, created by the University of California, Los Angeles, has launched two Web sites to help several area communities. One called Neighborhood Knowledge Los Angeles (nkla.sppsr.ucla.edu) helps residents identify financially abandoned buildings before they become problems for the neighborhood. The other, Living Independently in Los Angeles (lila.ucla.edu), maps local resources for disabled residents, who largely helped build the site.

The fourth technology-based finalist is Chicago's 311 system, which has helped to improve government accountability and accessibility since 1999. It helped eliminate several smaller call centers, replaced an outdated computer system and helped increase efficiency such as response time and freeing up 911 lines.

Each of the 15 finalists will present its program to a national committee that will announce the five winners May 8.

After a full day of presentations, the national selection committee will select five winning programs and announce them the following day. The committee chairman is David Gergen, director of the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard and editor at large of U.S. News & World Report.

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