U.S. To Unveil Streamlined Web Portal

The White House has commissioned a new portal, Firstgov.gov, to expedite information delivery to citizens from U.S. government agencies and services that are presently spread across more than 20,000 separate Web sites.

After shifting from his usual weekly radio address to his first-ever “Internet address,” President Bill Clinton said Saturday that the new site will help America “seize the potential of this information revolution to widen the circle of our democracy and make our government much more responsive to the needs of our citizens.”

Up and Running in 90 Days

The site is the first step of a three-part plan to demonstrate the Clinton administration’s desire to make the government more efficient by making it more Internet-based.

Firstgov.gov will be created at no cost to the government by Internet search engine developer Eric Brewer, and is expected to be up in 90 days or less.

The new site will enable visitors to search all of the federal government’s half-billion online pages in less than a quarter of a second, and will be capable of handling at least 100 million searches per day.

“When it’s complete, Firstgov will serve as a single point of entry to one of the largest, perhaps the most useful collection of Web pages in the entire world,” Clinton said. Reacting to last week’s embarrassing revelation that a federal anti-drug site was in violation of federal privacy policy, Clinton pledged that the site will not collect any information from its users.

Incentives for Expansion

Once the site is up and running, the government will “greatly expand” the scope of its services, Clinton pledged. “Increasingly, we’ll give our citizens not only the ability to send and receive information, but also to conduct sophisticated transactions online,” he said.

Among planned additions are a simple electronic form for bidding on government contracts, which include about $300 billion (US$) in grants and another $200 billion in goods and services procurement.

“Moving this enormous volume of business online will save a great deal of money and time for our taxpayers. It will also expand opportunities for community groups, small businesses, and citizens who never before have had a chance to show what they can do,” Clinton said.

Innovation Awards

In the third step of the plan, the nonprofit Council for Excellence in Government will work with the administration on a competition to generate new ideas for how the government can use computers and the Internet to serve and connect with U.S. citizens.

The Council will award a top prize of $50,000 to the student, researcher, private sector worker or government employee who presents “the most innovative proposal to advance e-government that is user-friendly, accessible, cost-effective, secure and protects the privacy of citizens’ personal information,” the council said.

A team of corporate sponsors will fund and judge the competition through the council’s Technology Leadership Consortium — more than four dozen private sector companies and non-profit groups that are pushing the government to improve delivery of its services in order to encourage economic growth and promote citizen participation in the governance process.

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