Grants program bearing fruit

Grants program bearing fruit


The National Science Foundation's digital government program is spawning easy-access Web site prototypes, seamless database and map queries from handheld computers, and new tools for designing online questionnaires.

The Digital Government Research Showcase, held in April at the Labor Statistics Bureau, drew representatives of statistics-oriented agencies such as the Census Bureau and the National Center for Health Statistics.

Colin Perkins, a researcher at the University of Southern California's Information Sciences Institute, is developing common authentication processes to share data in a secure, heterogeneous environment. Perkins' institute hosts the test bed for the FedStats project [GCN, April 30, Page 1].

Sarah M. Nusser, a statistics professor at Iowa State University, and her colleagues are working to connect wireless queries from Microsoft Windows CE devices with maps and aerial photographs stored in remote databases.

Ready to wear

Other researchers in her group, collectively dubbed Project Battuta, are developing wearable computer interfaces and a middleware application to mediate between remote queries and data repositories. The project also involves scientists at the University of California at Santa Barbara.

Lawrence Brandt
The university's Edward Hovy said his group at the Digital Government Research Center is working with Columbia University to improve data access at the Energy Information Administration's Web site.

Presently the site, at, presents energy production and statistics in static Hypertext Markup Language tables and documents. Hovy and his colleagues are building a streamlined interface for faster query processing.

Robert Balzer, a former USC researcher now with Teknowledge Corp. of Marina del Rey, Calif., demonstrated a prototype application for designing survey questionnaires. Users would draw logic diagrams in Microsoft PowerPoint, conduct surveys via Web browser and save answers in Microsoft Access, Balzer said. His custom wrappers for the office apps would analyze the flow of questions and answers.

Partnerships draw funds

Labor Statistics and the Census Bureau are evaluating the prototype, Balzer said.

Some exhibitors have been working on projects for six to 18 months, said Lawrence E. Brandt, NSF's program manager for digital government. The researchers must forge an ongoing partnership with at least one federal agency to get a digital government grant from NSF, Brandt said.

The statistical agencies participate in NSF's digital government initiative because most are under pressure to do more with less, and off-the-shelf software doesn't always meet their needs, he said.

Since its 1997 inception, NSF's annual budget for digital government has grown from $2.2 million to $8.5 million, Brandt said. About $2 million of the current budget comes from agencies other than NSF.

Brandt said he expects a significantly different crop of proposals this summer, possibly even research into electronic-voting methods in the wake of last November's presidential election.


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