GSA launches improved FirstGov


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The General Services Administration launched an improved version of the Web portal late Monday night, giving more access to government information from official Web sites.

FirstGov, aided by private-sector partners Vivisimo and Microsoft, now connects Web searchers to more than 40 million government-related documents from federal, state, local, tribal and territorial governments, said M.J. Pizzella, associate administrator of GSA’s Office of Citizen Services and Communications, at a press conference today. Previously, FirstGov had about 8 million documents and only searched federal sites.

The search engine incorporates Microsoft’s MSN Search for the metasearch and, using Vivisimo’s technology, breaks the results into thematic information clusters in a separate section of the same results page. The search also provides links to specific information.

The Web search platform selectively crawls through and indexes a variety of government sources, including frequently asked question documents, government forms, government job listings and podcasts. The preview feature is a new part of the government search engine. It allows for a quick glance at a Web page without leaving the FirstGov site.

Later this year, Pizzella said, the search will include government news and images from agencies, such as Hurricane Katrina photos, so visitors to the site can avoid hunting for images from several agencies' sites.

“The new search delivers a much richer, more productive search experience,” Pizzella said.

The improved portal indicates a shift in government acquisition practices toward mirroring industry trends rather than playing catch-up. FirstGov had been using search supplier Fast Search and Transfer since 2002. When government officials decided they wanted FirstGov to adopt more advanced, user-friendly search capabilities, they awarded a new contract in less than three months.

FirstGov costs taxpayers an estimated $1.8 million, Pizzella said. Current government search services cost an estimated $3.2 million. The GSA awarded a one-year contract in September 2005 to Vivisimo and Microsoft to help improve the government search engine, she said.

Because taxpayers are footing the bill, Pizzella said she wants to know the service is working, and the best measure of success is the American Consumer Satisfaction Index. In 2005 ACSI rated GSA’s FirstGov 72 out of 100, which Pizzella hopes will improve this year.


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