Powerful Links Speed Citizen Access to Government Info

There was a time when getting official information from the federal government felt a little like old-time prospecting. It took lots of time, sifting and patience just for the possibility of uncovering a few gold nuggets.

James Williams' Common Cents Administrator Column Logo

These days, the best link between government and citizen is www.USA.gov. That’s not the creators and managers of the site speaking; it’s Time magazine, which rated USA.gov one of the 25 websites “we can’t live without,” and the Brookings Institution, which recently named USA.gov the best government site.

Interestingly, USA.gov is a product of the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA), best known as the government’s procurement arm and landlord. GSA’s traditional job has been to provide goods and services at best value to other agencies so they can focus squarely on their core missions. USA.gov, to our great delight, has helped redefine the GSA mission.

We’re also pleased that Brookings rated our agency website, www.gsa.gov, as the third best site in the federal government. Expanded content, improved navigation and a customized search engine have all made gsa.gov more valuable and user friendly. Popular topics include government per diem rates and forms, how businesses can get on the GSA schedule, and how to buy surplus federal property.

One of the greatest challenges for government in any generation is figuring out how to use technology to better serve citizens. This has the obvious practical benefit of disseminating information, but it also helps establish a closer bond between Americans and their government.

As well, high-tech information delivery methods hold special appeal for younger Americans more accustomed to clicking than calling.

USA.gov, the U.S. government’s official web portal, offers RSS Feeds, E-mail updates, videos and much more on everything from hurricane information to government benefits to consumer protection for seniors. A state-of-the-art search engine provides documents, images, FAQ’s, and other information from federal, state, and local websites in a variety of formats, including mobile. And let’s not forget GobiernoUSA.gov, USA.gov’s Spanish-language counterpart, which offers the same latest and greatest information en español.

Six years ago, President Bush issued a direct challenge to those of us in the citizen services arena. To deliver citizen-centered electronic government of real value, the president said we needed to provide, “custom information from Washington when citizens want it, not just when Washington wants to give it to them.”
Many agencies took that challenge to heart. At GSA, we sat down, considered our existing websites, programs and initiatives, and thought long and hard about how to recast them in a way that would get us closer to the president’s objective. Six years later, there’s a lot more gold in our prospecting pan. USA.gov, plus our other citizen communications channels - the National Contact Center at 1-800 FED INFO - and the publications distribution center in Pueblo, Co. - racked up 222 million contacts with citizens in Fiscal 2007.

Jim Williams is Acting Administrator of the U.S. General Services Administration

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