GENERAL SERVICES ADMINISTRATION
SUBCOMMITTEE ON GOVERNMENT MANAGEMENT, INFORMATION AND TECHNOLOGY
COMMITTEE ON GOVERNMENT REFORM AND THE
UNITED STATES HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
OCTOBER 2, 2000
Mr. Chairman, I want to add my appreciation to you for providing this
opportunity for a critical review of FirstGov. I believe FirstGov is a
singular achievement and yet one that will keep getting better - that must keep getting better.
This Administration has been devoted to making a government that works better and costs less. I believe we have done that. In that context we had to do FirstGov. By now the American people have come to expect that kind of productivity of us.
In my comments today, I'd like to briefly describe the three modules of FirstGov and then explain the least well-developed and least well-understood part: the FirstGov partners.
The first module, and most visible, is the main portal, called FirstGov.gov. Behind that portal is the powerful searching and indexing technology providedto us by Fed-Search, the Foundation created by Dr. Eric Brewer. And the third part is our idea for a cadre of FirstGov partners.
The FirstGov.gov portal was developed by the government, using a fixed price contract. (In an amazingly short 90 days, I might add!) When you sign on to FirstGov.gov, up comes this simple, elegant, easy-to-look at, mainly blue and white page. It invites you to find what you want, in the way you want, and because it is open 24 hours a day, when you want it.
You can click on a topic, such as Learning, and get to a page with a whole list of excellent government web sites about Learning. You can click on Congress and get to Thomas or to the House web site. You can click to a site where you can be directed to state and local government sites.
You can click to one of the periodically changing, featured sites. Right
now, we are featuring "severe weather" and "school stuff". Or you can decide you just have to say something to your government; give us feedback.
And if you want to search by keyword, we have a great index waiting for your search query.
That index was built by Dr. Eric Brewer's Fed-Search Foundation. A few people seem to be skeptical of the Fed-Search-government relationship. I'd like to see us get over that - soon. David Binetti, the President & CEO of the Fed-Search Foundation, is here today and you can hear the Fed-Search story directly from him.
Eric Brewer and Dave Binetti have been magnificent partners throughout this 90-day period. At every turn, when we presented them with one more need of the government, they gave it to us because they wanted to get this accomplished. Those who subscribe to the "don't believe what I say until you see what I do" credo, will like Eric Brewer. He is what he said he was - simply interested in giving a gift to his government, a very generous gift.
Fed-Search uses the Inktomi technology to do its searching and indexing. In a few days, they spidered (searched) all publicly available government web pages and indexed 27 million pages. Fed-Search will keep the index updated.
The third part is our FirstGov Partner idea.
As we were developing FirstGov, we knew that most Internet users had a favorite portal, or small group of portals they almost always used.
Something like 85% of users navigate the web via the big three - Yahoo, AOL or MSN. In addition, there are over 200 other portals serving the increasingly large base of regular users.
These portals have flourished because they innovate and provide a service to their customers. They get their customers the information they want in the way they want it at the speed they want it. And the portals that survive will survive because they get better and better.
So, we figured we should design FirstGov to be attractive to these successful portals and thereby allow our ultimate customer more choice. We believe FirstGov.gov is good and we plan to keep it at the state-of-the-art. But, citizens are used to picking from their own personal view of the best. They should have that choice.
We had some conditions, though. Fed-Search index has all the publicly available government pages. Through FirstGov: The "first use" of government information must be free to all citizens. No individual can be tracked while browsing government pages. Security must be excellent. And no advertising on FirstGov pages.
You get all that when you log on to FirstGov.gov. And that's what we will require of any FirstGov Partner's portal.
All these things led us to the idea to allow other portals (public and
private) to become FirstGov partners. We would like them - and therefore their customers - to have access to the results of a search in Fed-Search.
There are four ways to go. One is the most obvious. Any portal whether or not a partner, can "point" to the FirstGov URL and when the user clicks, that user is transported to the FirstGov.gov portal. The same as if you typed in the URL on any browser.
The other three are simply three ways an independent portal can join the FirstGov world. The independent portal benefits by being able to provide better service to its customer. The FirstGov brand benefits by having more people know about and use it.
In the three models, each portal agrees to the FirstGov conditions. Along with the protections the agreement provides, it sets a high standard for access to government information and transactions.
In the first of the three models (Bronze), the portal puts a FirstGov logo button (or words) on the portal's site. Clicking it takes the user to the
FirstGov.gov page and she acts as if she had come there directly.
The second model (Silver) has a "FirstGov search box," where the user can enter a word or words with the promise of a keyword search. The keyword is processed by Fed-Search and results are returned to a FirstGov page on the user's PC. Now the user is in FirstGov. This service is free from Fed-Search.
In the third model (Gold), the portal pays Fed-Search a nominal cost to
process the search, a cost designed to cover costs. Fed-Search provides a fast pipe to the portal guaranteeing optimal performance of the portal. The portal still adheres to the FirstGov principles.
As of Friday, 178 companies and non-profits have already shown serious interest in becoming FirstGov partners. They know the conditions and they see the value.
The FirstGov Partners Program is not a mystery. It is just what I described and has been for weeks. When we first introduced the idea, we listened to a concerns and excitement from all quarters and responded to make it the best we could.
Mr. Chairman, I consider this a proud moment for the Federal government. I hope you do, too. In just a week, FirstGov has captured the imagination of tens of thousands of people. By now, citizens have made over a million visits to the FirstGov.gov portal and have told us how much they like it and a few things we should get better at.
Thank you, again, for your constant attention to the efforts of so many to making a better government that helps people and uses their money wisely.