Web portal sole federal finalist for public service award

A Web site that gives the public access to a wide array of government services and information is the only federal project among 15 finalists for the annual Innovations in American Government Award.

FirstGov, administered by the General Services Administration, and 14 other finalists were selected from a pool of nearly 1,000 applicants. Finalists will each receive a $10,000 grant to replicate their programs in other areas and are eligible to compete for one of five $100,000 grants. A selection committee will announce the five winners on May 8, one day after finalists deliver their presentations at Washington's National Press Club.

Since 1986, the Innovations in American Government Awards, which are funded by the Ford Foundation and administered by Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government and the Council for Excellence in Government, have honored creative government programs that help solve economic and social problems. Winning programs must be original, effective and capable of being replicated nationwide.

"Many applicants leveraged technology innovatively," said Patricia McGinnis, president and chief executive officer of the Council for Excellence in Government. "But these finalists represent the crème de la crème. They're terrific examples of how much more can be delivered in the era of e-government than electronics-efficiency, effectiveness [and] excellence."

FirstGov is the central Web portal for information on the federal government. The site is a gateway to other federal Web sites such as DisasterHelp.gov, administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and Recreation.gov, administered by the Interior Department. In addition, FirstGov has links to state and local government sites.

Through FirstGov, citizens have access to services ranging from filing their taxes electronically to getting change-of-address forms from the Postal Service. They can also find information about the government's latest health research and reserve campsites at the National Parks link. The 28-month-old site is a finalist for the Innovations award for the second consecutive year.

Since last year, FirstGov staff have conducted user surveys that have provided good feedback on what the public finds most useful on the site and would like to see in the future, said Michael Messinger, GSA's director of marketing and communications for FirstGov. The surveys have helped staff focus on areas of FirstGov that could be improved or expanded, enhancing the ability of the site to serve the public efficiently. The staff members are "ecstatic" to be finalists again, he added.

The other award finalists were primarily state and local government programs. For example, a Rhode Island program helps children on welfare visit family members they are separated from by court order. Another program, in New York City, will enable first responders to view maps of the city's important physical features.

A full list of finalists is available on the Council for Excellence in Government Web site.

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