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FirstGov.gov: Government Resources at Your Fingertips!

Whether you're looking for the text of last night's presidential address, facts about current political situations in specific foreign countries, satellite photos of Earth, or nutritional requirements for school lunches, you'll find what you need at FirstGov.gov, a Web portal created and maintained by the U.S. government. Included: An introduction to FirstGov for Kids, an information portal to resources developed for students.

FirstGov is a Web portal that makes all the resources of federal and state government easily accessible to users at one central location. "We like to call FirstGov the first click to the U.S. government," Michael S. Messinger, FirstGov's director of marketing and communications, told Education World. "We want to help visitors find what they're looking for as thoroughly and quickly as possible."

'SEAMLESS' GOVERNMENT

FirstGov started out as a compilation of federal government resources. Then, in June 2001, the site added 14 million pages of state government information, according to Deborah Diaz, deputy associate administrator of the General Services Administration and director of the office of FirstGov. Now, "FirstGov is a treasure of federal and state government services," Diaz said.

FirstGov for Kids

"FirstGov for Kids provides instant access to government pages designed for kids," according to Deborah Diaz, director of the office of FirstGov. "It provides information in kids' language and with appropriate graphics." Kids can click any of 20 topics to find links to kids' sections of government, organizational, and commercial Web sites.

Departments and agencies of the federal government that feature kids' Web sites include the U.S. Air Force, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Department of Justice, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the National Weather Service, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the U.S. Fire Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the National Cancer Institute, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

"Even the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) has a kids' site," said Michael S. Messinger, director of marketing and communications for FirstGov. On the CIA Web site students can find the annually updated World Factbook, a current report on every country in the world. "Textbooks can't keep up as countries change dramatically," Messinger said. The World Factbook provides the most current information."

At FirstGov for Kids, students can browse such topics as careers, safety, health, government, geography, and technology. Most of the links here are to pages designed for children. Users of FirstGov can also search by keyword; however, the search function available is the same one provided at FirstGov, so the results will not necessarily be geared toward youngsters.

"By providing both federal and state information, FirstGov can make government seamless," Diaz said. "People don't have to know what they're looking for. They can just browse. For example, if they're looking for health information, they can go to the portals listed in the health section and find a wealth of information." FirstGov can also help citizens find a vast number of transactions, forms, and services, Diaz pointed out. For example, visitors can find federal and state tax forms, the address of their local post office, or the level of pollution in their own backyard.

For schools and teachers, the site offers curriculum guides, student loan information, and kids guides, as well as information about how to apply for grants and about medical benefits for children. Other areas of FirstGov that are of particular interest to educators include the college search resource, a listing of education agencies by state, a directory of libraries, and a section on mental health resources. The vast resources of the U.S. Department of Education are all incorporated here too. "FirstGov provides the most current [education] information, plus what's in all the archives," Messinger said. "It helps all levels of the education community."

"FirstGov also features subjects of topical interest such as weather or (in September) school information," Diaz said. The special features change every two weeks. Past features have included water safety, organ donation, home gardening, nutrition and diet, safe and drug-free schools, snowflakes, and the U.S. Electoral College.

THREE WAYS TO USE FIRSTGOV

Diaz explained that people can use FirstGov in three ways:
  • to search by keyword;
  • to browse government resources by topic -- business, science and technology, and weather, for example;
  • to access government resources by organization.
"FirstGov can search 47 million pages within a quarter of a second," Diaz said. Education World found that searches on general topics such as Abraham Lincoln or the Civil War routinely returned more than 1,000 documents.

To produce more useful search results, users can access the site's advanced search function, which allows the addition of more specific words and phrases to narrow down the results. "When searching by keyword, the more information you put in, the better your search will be," Messinger explained. "For example, if you're looking for an original copy of the Declaration of Independence, add 'original document' to your search words." Education World found that the addition of search phrases such as 'lesson plan' or 'curriculum guide' to general topics produced more manageable lists of results.

CITIZEN FEEDBACK

"We want people to contact their government, and we'll be spending a lot of energy in this area," Diaz said. "We're designing a feedback system, and we want to hear from people. FirstGov is a two-way system, a window to government that didn't exist before."

"FirstGov is a customer-centric Web site," Messinger added. "The concept of FirstGov is to reconnect citizens with government. We want it to be responsive, to give the information you want."

"People who have discovered FirstGov have become advocates," Messinger told Education World. He hopes the number of citizens using FirstGov will continue to grow. "About 56 percent of American homes are wired for the Internet," he said. "Other people go to the library to do online research. We want everyone to have access to FirstGov."

 

Article by Mary Daniels Brown
Education World®
Copyright © 2001 Education World

Updated 03/01/2004