Labor Department unveils updated benefits Web tools

On the third anniversary of its benefits Web site, the Labor Department on Friday unveiled a new design function intended to promote participation among federal and state agencies and announced that its loans Web site is available in Spanish.

Using the "Customized Connections" program, agencies will be able to link to through their main Web sites via a portal that will retain the design and structure of the original site. Users seeking benefits information who click through Labor's Web site, for example, will be provided with the benefits data in the same font and colors used by Labor, "so they don't feel like it's a different site," Steven Law, deputy secretary of Labor, said at an event touting the site's refurbishing.

The initiative will help the department in its goal to decrease the number of redundant Web sites and "consolidate cross-governmental functions," Law said. Agencies can include any of the four available GovBenefits components on their Web sites: keywords search; results by specific question; browse by category; and latest news.

Law said traffic to GovBenefits has grown exponentially; the site gets about 150,000 hits per month. Law last year set a goal of having 1,000 benefits Web sites in the GovBenefits database, an objective "to my great surprise," that was surpassed to reach a total of 1,031 as of Friday, he said. His goal for next year is to "have customized connections for every single federal partner."

"It's a smart business solution [and] a model for cross-agency teamwork," said Tim Young, associate administrator of e-government and information technology at the Office of Management and Budget, who stepped in for an ailing Karen Evans, the department's administrator.

In a statement read by Labor Chief Information Officer Patrick Pizzella, former OMB director and current Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, a Republican, praised GovBenefits as an "effective" use of technology that is "evolving into a true inter-governmental" site.

Pizzella said Daniels has "expressed his interest" in having Indiana become the first state to pilot Customized Connections on its Web site, though Daniels' press office did not immediately have any information on those plans. Meanwhile, the Social Security Administration likely will be the first federal agency to pilot the initiative, Pizzella said.

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