By Katy Saldarini
October 20, firstname.lastname@example.org
In GovExec.com's third annual Best Feds on the Web competition, contestants showed that a pretty face and great links are no longer enough to qualify as a top federal Web site. Technological know-how and customer service are what really counts.
This year, the judges of the Best Feds competition had a wide range of talent to choose from. A pool of 120 nominees, submitted by federal webmasters, site customers, and other interested parties, was narrowed to 50 finalists. Last year's winners were ruled ineligible to compete this time around. The judges' decisions were based on three criteria:
This year's Best Feds on the Web, in no particular order, are:
The United States Mint
This state-of-the-art federal e-commerce site is designed for more than just coin collectors. The online catalog, chock-full of fun products, could entice just about anyone to pull out their credit card. "I had to stop myself from buying something right away," one of our judges said. But the Mint's site goes beyond shopping. A section aimed at kids offers lesson plans for teachers and games for budding collectors. It also has a nifty tutorial on how coins are made. If you become a true coin guru, sign up for the Mint's e-mail notifications and e-newsletters on several coin subjects.
U.S. Census Bureau
The world has surpassed the 6 billion mark in population- you can check it on the Census Bureau Web site's online population ticker. A plethora of facts are waiting to be uncovered at this site, from economic indicators to data on the fertility of American women. Statistical databases are not a novelty anymore, but the Census Bureau's fast, accurate and customized search engines and organized layout will make you want to dig for data.
Federal Resources for Educational Excellence
This umbrella site for government wide educational tools and resources made some of our judges reconsider the teaching profession. With hundreds of links to learning resources, the site makes teaching look exciting. The links are deep, the design is clean, and the "What's New" section is up-to-date. What's more, the site serves both its student and teacher audiences well.
Voice of America
VOA's newsroom is open around the clock, offering broadcasts in 53 languages and up-to-date information on international politics that often goes beyond what network television has to offer. The online archive offers news by day or by country. VOA even has a special section for those just learning English, with broadcasts spoken at a slower speed using simpler words. Now that's customer service.
Easy navigation and frequent updates are the highlights of this site, which aims to decrease chemical accidents through investigation and education. The site serves its customers well. We especially liked the fact they offer an e-mail newsletter that provides up-to-date coverage. With less than 30 employees, the Chemical Safety Board proves that even the small guys can have a big Web presence.
National Biological Information Infrastructure
The NBII site is a repository for everything under the sun related to biology-a science teacher's dream. One of the site's best features is FrogWeb, focusing on amphibian declines and deformities. FrogWeb caters to kids and scientists alike. A virtual frog dissection and the "Lickety Splat!" frog game demonstrate how the Web can be both educational and fun.
Bureau of Consular Affairs
This site is a must-visit for Americans traveling to foreign countries. The simple, clean design cuts to the chase, skipping flashy graphics and plug-ins in favor of content. Information is detailed, easily located and current. A e-mail service provides subscribers with new information as soon as it's issued and the crisis page provides continuous updates when major catastrophes occur abroad. Foreign citizens can also find visa requirements and forms online, and information on special topics such as international parental child abduction and international adoption are covered in-depth.
Small Business Administration
In a word, this site is indispensable. It sets out to help people start their own businesses, and far exceeds that goal. As if the extensive information covering how to define, start, finance and expand a small business isn't enough, the site provides e-mail counseling and mentoring, online educational courses, and a search engine for its database of federal, state and private contracts available to small firms. The success stories about private entrepreneurs are enough to inspire any worker bee to start their own business.
Bureau of the Public Debt
Given the complex nature of this site's subject matter, the site does a commendable job of keeping things simple. A "savings bond wizard" helps users manage their bond inventory and determine the current redemption value, earned interest and more. There's an area for kids, a section in Spanish, and plenty of information for the financial novice. Oh, and the public debt is more than $5 trillion, in case you were wondering. Just check the site, they update the figure daily, to the penny.
Many agencies have to buy at least some of their furniture and other products from Federal Prison Industries' Unicor operation, but at least Unicor makes it easy for them online. This site is pleasing to the eye and well-organized, with a consistent design scheme throughout. Finding what you need is easy: Just browse the online catalog or search the schedule of products. Not only can agencies place orders online, they can submit electronic waiver requests- a handy customer service feature. The site also features an online complaint resolution form and easily located contact information.
This site harnesses the power of the Web for military members on the move. After answering a series of detailed questions, users can get a list of the estimated costs associated with making a move, right down to how much it will cost to put Fluffy and Bowser up in a kennel for a few days. Then, the cost-of-living feature will compare an individual's current financial standard of living to that of communities surrounding the base they're moving to. And the best-fit analysis will rank those communities based on various neighborhood demographics. Using Military Acclimate takes some effort, but the output is worth it.
Energy Information Administration
This site makes full use of the power of e-mail, featuring e-mail notification lists for more than 30 different energy subjects. EIA is a tiny agency, so the comprehensiveness of its Web site-and its ease of navigation-amazed the judges. Everyone who works in the energy industry is well-served by this site.
National Finance Center
This site provides employee personal Web pages for the more than 40 agencies that receive personnel services from the Agriculture Department's National Finance Center. The judges couldn't imagine a more useful tool. Employees can find out their earnings immediately after the payroll process is completed, figure out how much annual leave they have left, gather information about insurance and travel vouchers, and check the data on their W2 forms. No more putting in requests to the personnel office- NFC puts your data at your fingertips whenever you want it.
National Business Center
This site got lots of design points with us. It's efficiently organized and plain good looking. The drop-down menus make navigation a snap. What's more, the entire site- comprised of page after page of detailed content- is actually only one page of HTML code. This design means that users never actually leave the home page, they just visit a new layer of it with every link. As a result, users never have to wait for additional graphics to load. NBC employees can access their time and attendance records, e-mail and electronic calendars online. Customers can request information electronically and visitors curious about what NBC does can view Microsoft PowerPoint presentations on the agency's products and services.
VA Healthcare Network Upstate New York
With one click of a mouse, this site allows veterans in upstate New York to find their nearest VA hospital, check its hours of operation, get driving directions, find the phone number to call for an appointment, and check out the parking situation at the hospital. Therein lies the key to its success. In addition to those customer service features, a monthly e-mail newsletter updates subscribers on current veterans' health news in the area. Vets can read the healthcare benefits enrollment guide online, then submit their enrollment form electronically. The site also helps employees by offering online educational information and resources.
The Computer Retrieval of Information on Scientific Projects site is a searchable database of more than 2 million biomedical research projects funded by the National Institutes of Health. We were impressed with how quickly the database returned extensive results, on topics ranging from leprosy to baseball injuries. The site supports basic or advanced searches providing titles, abstracts and contact information for the study's principle researchers. Overall, this is a tremendous resource for scientists and anyone else with an interest in biomedical research.
By Katy Saldarini
October 20, 1999