Cheney unveils redesigned FirstGov

Vice President Dick Cheney unveiled a redesigned FirstGov Web site Tuesday, a new version of the federal government's online public point of entry for information and services. The original FirstGov site was launched during the Clinton administration. In a ceremony at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington, Cheney said the new site is an attempt to remedy the slowness and inefficiency of many government services, which he called "one of government's oldest problems." Cheney also said the site will advance government use of the Internet, one of the president's major management priorities. The new FirstGov has a user-friendly design intended to get visitors to the information they need in three mouse clicks or less, said Mark Forman, the Office of Management and Budget's associate director for information technology and e-government. The site is divided into categories of interest for citizens, businesses and other governments. Among other changes, users can now readily find information about Social Security payments, register for the Selective Service and access an index of federal agencies. The site also features a redesigned search engine that Forman said will return more accurate and relevant results. The site's redesign job site cost $350,000, Forman said. FirstGov isn't the only Web site that provides government information and services. Numerous agencies maintain expansive Web sites on which citizens can apply for benefits, loans and permits. State and local governments are generally far ahead of the federal government in the use of online transactions and e-government services. Users can also get quick access to government services using Internet search engines. In some cases, those search engines outperform FirstGov. For example, typing the phrase "apply for federal fishing permit" into the search engine Google returns a link for the National Marine Fisheries Service permit shop. However, typing the same phrase into FirstGov yields a link to marine fishery regulations, a 1996 press release on lobster management and a Federal Register document on pollution discharge. The sixth link provided goes to the National Marine Fisheries Service Northwest Regional Office, which does not accept online permit applications. A new poll for the Council for Excellence in Government by research firm Hart-Teeter found that 67 percent of all Americans, or about 192 million people, have access to the Internet, and 148 million of those people use the Internet for e-government "very" or "somewhat" often. FirstGov averages about 1 million visitors a month.