Taking A Byte Out Of Red Tape

Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) (L), Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) (M) and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) (R) listen to remarks from Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Peter Pace
Getty Images/Mark Wilson
One-stop shopping has come to the federal government's 20,000 web sites.

You can now track your Social Security benefits, apply for a federal student loan, find the nearest veterans hospital or reserve a campsite at a national park by clicking onto one U.S. government Internet site http://firstgov.gov.

The new site consolidates 20,000 government sites - some 27 million web pages - into one location. The government calls it "your first resource to find any government information on the Internet, with topics ranging from business and economy to money and benefits to science and technology - and everything in between!"

"Up to this point, the problem has been finding the information" in the maze of government Web sites, said Thomas Kalil, special assistant to the president for economic policy. "It's been like a library without a card catalog."

The new site lets Internet users search for government information by topic, rather than by agency. It also is designed to reduce the time Americans now spend traveling to government offices and waiting in line.

The site was developed, at no cost to taxpayers, by a team led by Internet entrepreneur Eric Brewer. He's chief scientist at Inktomi Corp., a software developer and marketer in Foster City, Calif. The government will pay $165,000 a month to maintain the site, which can search a half a billion documents in less than one-quarter of a second and handle millions of searches a day, Kalil said.

A survey released last week concluded that federal and state governments still have a long way to go in exploiting the power of the Internet, with few offering user-friendly Web sites to help people do business with governments online.

The White House Web site ranked near the bottom among federal Internet destinations, Brown University researchers said.

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