Clinton calls for single portal to federal sites

Clinton calls for single portal to federal sites

Users will be able to track information 24 hours a day, seven days a week, President Clinton says.

By Christopher J. Dorobek

GCN Staff

In his first webcast, President Clinton last month announced the creation of a Web portal that will connect all government information and services.

Known as FirstGov, the federal site will be similar to the popular portal. All data will continue to reside on agency Web sites; will provide links to the information.

The portal, which Clinton said would be online within 90 days, is a follow-up to an effort begun more than a year ago by the General Services Administration and known as WebGov [GCN, April 17, Page 3].

FirstGov will let citizens search half a billion documents in less than one-quarter of a second, Clinton administration officials said. It will be able to handle at least 100 million searches a day. The goal of the site is to make it easier for citizens to find government information and services, which are currently dispersed on at least 20,000 Web sites.

'When it's complete, FirstGov will serve as a single point of entry to one of the largest, perhaps the most useful collections of Web pages in the entire world,' Clinton said. 'Whether you want crucial information in starting a small business or you want to track your Social Security benefits, you can do it all in one place, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.'

The site will be created at no cost to the government by a nonprofit group being formed by Internet entrepreneur Eric Brewer, founder and chief scientist for search engine maker Inktomi Corp. of Foster City, Calif. Brewer is also a professor at the University of California at Berkeley.

Web address

Clinton announced the portal June 24 during his webcast, which replaced his regularly scheduled weekly radio address.

Providing information through the site is only the first step, Clinton said. Eventually, agencies will also use FirstGov for transactions with citizens.

FirstGov is part of a broader electronic-government push by the administration. The portal will provide information and enable electronic filing of government procurement data by expanding GSA's Electronic Posting System, said Sally Katzen, counselor to the director of the Office of Management and Budget. A handful of agencies are already using EPS.

Internet entrepreneur Eric Brewer is forming the nonprofit group that will create the FirstGov site.

The goal is to have more than 20 agencies representing about two-thirds of federal procurement dollars using the electronic system by the end of the year, Katzen said.

'Our hope is to move to a paperless environment and do it in a way where small businesses and others are not disadvantaged,' she said.

FirstGov will also be a portal for government grant applications and awards. The government awards about $300 billion in grants each year. The plan is to have 75 percent of the grants online by the end of the year, Katzen said. An interagency group already has begun work on a central online grant system.

The nonprofit organization specifically created for the FirstGov project will develop and manage the site.

After two years, the government has the right of first refusal to purchase the site.

No competition

The site is not aimed at competing with the nearly 50 private-sector government portals, GSA Administrator David J. Barram said. Any of those sites can participate in FirstGov, he said.

The purveyors of private-sector sites tend to offer links to the most visited government sites but generally are not interested in providing searches across all government sites, Barram said.

'We thought it was crucial that the government have all its Web pages available in one place,' he said.

In his webcast, Clinton also announced a $50,000 bounty, offered by the Council for Excellence in Government, for the most innovative electronic-government proposal.

The webcast and text of Clinton's address are available at

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