Executives see FirstGov as door to e-government

Executives see FirstGov as door to e-government

Steven Hawald says the portal could spur better integration of services.

Portal will find needles in the Internet haystack

By Christopher J. Dorobek

GCN Staff

When is a front door more than just a point of entry?

When it becomes a gateway to an electronic government, as federal executives predict the proposed government Web portal, FirstGov, will be.

'This is the first time the government is really taking a serious step forward in breaking down the stovepipes,' said Transportation Department chief information officer George Molaski, co-chairman of the CIO Council's E-Government Committee.

The portal, which President Clinton said would go online this fall at www.firstgov.gov, must direct roughly 27 million visitors each month to the government Web sites they seek [GCN, July 3, Page 3].

'How you get to those Web sites matters a lot,' said David J. Barram, administrator of the General Services Administration.

Beyond routing citizens to information sources, executives see FirstGov as a key to creating an electronic government. Citizens will continue to push for broader changes that will require agencies to work across traditional boundaries, they said.

'If this works well, this has a chemical reaction,' said G. Martin Wagner, associate administrator of GSA for governmentwide policy.

Officials envision the site pushing agencies into intergovernmental relationships as the public demands better integration of government services.

'We are beginning to see the migration from stovepiped thinking to group thought,' said Steven Hawald, CIO of the Education Department's Office of Student Financial Assistance.

He specifically pointed to his agency's Access America for Students site, at www.students.gov, and the Access America for Seniors site, at www.seniors.gov, which offer services to targeted groups [GCN, April 5, 1999, Page 11].

FirstGov will further spur agencies to move in that direction, Hawald said.

'This portal will be a pull' for agencies to work together, said Richard Jennings, vice president and general manager of Computer Sciences Corp.'s technology management group.

Picking up speed


The government's systems chieftains say FirstGov, the Clinton administration's governmentwide portal initiative, will give the public one-stop access to federal information and services.


The concept of a single government Web portal has been in development since 1998 [GCN, Aug. 24, 1998, Page 1], but the effort has suddenly been accelerated.

'We're moving in Internet time,' Barram said.

Barram said the timing is not political, even though the presidential election is only five months away. 'This is the right thing to do,' he said.

The timetable has been driven in part by an offer to develop a database of Web sites and a search engine at no cost to the government. Eric Brewer, founder and chief technology officer of Inktomi Corp. of Foster City, Calif., which develops search engine technology, offered to form a nonprofit organization that will create and maintain the system.

Brewer, a professor at the University of California at Berkeley who received a research grant from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency that eventually led to the formation of Inktomi, could design the database on his own, Barram said.

Inktomi's search engine will let users find government information via spidering technology that Brewer developed at Berkeley, Barram said.

The FirstGov database will keep track of 25,000 federal Web sites encompassing more than 100 million Web pages, Barram said, and will let citizens search 500 full-text pages in about a quarter of a second.

Seek and you shall find

Currently, there are a lot of needles in a lot of haystacks, Barram said, noting that information from so many federal sites can be difficult to track down. FirstGov will be the magnet that lets citizens find those needles, he said.

The data will also be available to other Web sites that are working to create government portals. They will have to meet conditions set by FirstGov.

FirstGov will let companies use the information and put a certification on their site if they follow these conditions:

•'The site must use the federal information as is.

•'It must provide free, uninterrupted public access to government Web sites.

•'The site may not track individual user movements to or through the government information.

•'It may not include active banner ads on the screens where a FirstGov page is displayed.

•'All government information must include clear and conspicuous attribution.

•'Government material must not be placed with or near pornography or pages that violate law.

•'Sections that contain FirstGov information must comply with accessibility guidelines established by Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act.

FirstGov has established a board of directors comprising eight members of Clinton's Management Council and three members of the CIO Council.

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