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Web portal expands technology available to agencies

The operator of the federal government's Internet portal announced on Wednesday that it is bolstering efforts to leverage its technology tools across government by allowing agencies to use the products to manage their own Web sites.

As part of the effort, the General Services Administration (GSA) announced that it has awarded a contract to Reston, Va.-based Vignette to purchase content-management software for the FirstGov.gov portal, which links to nearly every federal entity.

GSA's Office of Citizen Services and Communications, which manages FirstGov, found that other agencies could use some of the capabilities that it purchased for FirstGov, said Associate Director M.J. Jameson.

In keeping with the "buy once, use many" motto advocated by Bush administration budget officials, GSA in 2001 began offering its search-engine software to other federal agencies so they could utilize the technology. "We've got about 500 government entities using our search engine, and they don't pay anything for that," she said.

Over the past two years, GSA has sought to capitalize on the success of that program by offering across the federal government other Web services that it has licensed. Last year, for example, Jameson's group started letting other agencies host their Web sites through FirstGov. And GSA's newest contract for online content tools will enable government agency Webmasters to post information on their sites more quickly and easily, she said.

That initiative "can allow [agencies] to have added functionality and make their products better" without duplicating the purchase of IT Web tools, Jameson said. "There are a lot of other benefits, such as [increased] security," she said.

Some agencies may pay incremental costs for some GSA Web services, Jameson said, but those costs will be far less than if the agencies licensed the products on their own.

Although the effort began in 2001, she said it has been evolving, and now GSA officials are attempting to formalize a division within the Office of Citizen Services to serve as a clearinghouse for the shared Web-services program.

"We're looking at how to put that together right now and what that will look like," she added.

Jameson cautioned, however, that not all agencies may need the GSA services. "When there's a fit and it makes sense, that's when you want to do it."