Portals put help under one roof

Virtual Home Center is among the portals OK'd by the CIO Council's egovernment committee

With at least 10 agencies owning homes, the federal government is the nation's largest landlord. But it doesn't want to be.

A new Internet portal should help the government unload the houses it gets stuck with after owners default on loans or that it seizes during the prosecution of crimes.

The e-government committee of the federal CIO Council has approved spending $1.2 million on seven new government Internet portals, including $225,000 for one being called a Virtual Home Center that is designed to bring together real estate sellers and buyers.

The portal, which will be at www.homes.gov, will target "those most underserved by the private sector [real estate] market," says a description written by the committee. That includes people who lack money for down payments, have poor credit histories, have significant debt or face discrimination.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development will head the portal development effort, starting by compiling a complete list of federal homes offered for sale by agencies ranging from the Department of Veterans Affairs to the Drug Enforcement Administration to the Internal Revenue Service.

To assist first-time buyers, the portal also will offer extensive instruction in how to buy a home, including an online tutorial that guides would-be buyers through the home-buying process.

In addition to helping buyers, the portal is intended to save the government money. The faster government-owned homes can be sold, the sooner government agencies can stop paying for maintenance, repairs and insurance.

The e-government committee has focused on portals as a way to make it easy to find related information and services on the Internet even though they are offered by various agencies.

A "cross-agency portal working group" selected seven portals and a "common portal builder tool" as projects worthy of funding. The projects include:

* A portal that locates services and information for senior citizens with disabilities.

* A portal to direct low-income Americans to financial aid and other assistance from 61 programs in five departments and 14 agencies.

* Science.gov, which would make a vast collection of scientific and technical available to the public in one location. The portal is intended for a "science-attentive" public of scientists, teachers, students, entrepreneurs and others. The portal is to offer search capabilities not now available to the public.

* MapStats for Kids, a portal intended to improve statistical literacy by making information easy to find and understand.

* A volunteers portal that provides opportunities based on geographic location.

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