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OMB Testimony

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Office of Management and Budget


October 2, 2000

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee.

Thank you for inviting me here today to discuss the Federal Government's new and most comprehensive web portal - FirstGov. We appreciate your continued strong support of agency electronic government efforts. In addition, we welcome your interest in FirstGov and the opportunity to describe what we are trying to do and how we are progressing on electronic government.


Before discussing the launch of FirstGov, it may be helpful to place this project in the context of the Administration's ongoing efforts in bringing electronic government to the American people. E-government involves access to government information and services 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, in a way that is focused on the needs of our citizens and businesses. E-Government relies heavily on agency use of the Internet and other emerging technologies to receive and deliver information and services easily, quickly, efficiently, and inexpensively.

Indeed, the Administration has recognized the potential of the Internet from the earliest days. To plan for the use of information technology throughout the government, the Administration established the Information Infrastructure Task Force (IITF) in 1993 to coordinate the Administration's efforts to improve service delivery to the public. I chaired the committee on information policy of the IITF. Much of that work formed the basis for our e-government work now. In July 1997, we published our principles for e-commerce, which relied heavily on industry self-regulation. Adherence to these principles has allowed the Internet to flourish in a manner that is generally free from government restrictions.

To accelerate and focus the Federal government's work, last December the President issued a Memorandum to the Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies regarding Electronic Government. The Memorandum calls for a number of actions, such as making federal forms and transactions available online, ensuring privacy, and providing access for the disabled. Significantly, the first item in this Directive calls for the establishment of a "one-stop" gateway to government information available on the Internet, organized by the type of service or information that people are seeking rather than by agency. I will return to this in just a moment.

As DDM, I chair the President's Management Council (PMC), which is comprised of the Chief Operating Officers from the major Departments and agencies. The PMC adopted "Promoting Electronic Government" as one of its three goals for the year 2000 and it has adopted priorities that build upon the President's Memorandum. These include a one stop gateway for government information and services, the development of customer-centric web sites for specific purposes like exports and procurement, and the adoption of at least one electronic government process in every agency.

The Administration's Record

This Administration is making significant strides in transforming our government to an Electronic Government, using the President's directive and the PMC goals as a framework. Through these efforts, citizens can avoid traveling to government offices, waiting in line, or mailing paper forms. In fact, every Cabinet department is online and using web sites to make more information and services available to the American people at the click of a mouse. There are currently some 20,000 government web sites available for use. Citizens are using web sites to file their taxes with the IRS (www.irs.gov), apply for student loans (www.students.gov), find new jobs (www.workers.gov), and to compare their Medicare options (www.medicare.gov). They're tapping into the latest health research (www.health.gov), using statistics from across the government (www.fedstats.gov), browsing the vast collection of the Library of Congress (www.loc.gov), and following along with NASA's missions in outer space (www.nasa.gov). According to a recent Andersen Consulting study, the United States is the leader in providing government information electronically.

A key component of a successful transition to electronic government is protecting the privacy of personal information. Last spring, in response to questions and concerns raised by the public about federal agency use of personal information collected online, OMB Director Jack Lew issued Memorandum M-99-18 - Privacy Policies on Federal Web Sites. In that memorandum, OMB directed federal agencies to post privacy policies on key web pages contained in agency web sites. The executive branch agencies implemented the OMB memorandum with great success, with a virtually perfect record at agency principal web sites and at major points of entry. More recently, Director Lew issued Memorandum M-00-18 - Privacy Policies and Data Collection on Federal Web Sites, prohibiting the tracking of user behavior across government web sites and over time. FirstGov complies with both of these memoranda.

As the President directed in his Executive Memoranda commemorating the 10th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act on July 26th of this year, agencies have been asked to make all programs offered on their Internet and Intranet sites accessible to people with disabilities by July 27, 2001. I am pleased to report that the FirstGov site has met this deadline almost 9 months early. FirstGov is an important tool for improving the accessibility of electronic benefits and services to people with disabilities.

A recent Hart-Teeter study conducted by the Council for Excellence in Government demonstrates that E-gov and efforts like FirstGov are what the public wants. The study found that Americans overwhelmingly support e-Government, viewing it as a way to get more involved, be better informed and hold government more accountable to its citizens. According to the study, 66% of the public has visited Government web sites with 71% rating Government sites excellent or good. A majority of Americans hold favorable views on every e-gov function tested, giving the highest marks to a broad selection of sites including those providing medical information, Social Security information, and on-line student loan application. In addition, as many of our younger citizens start interacting with the government they will only demand more access to information and services on-line.


As I mentioned earlier, the momentum for FirstGov was generated by the President's Directive on Electronic Government from last December, which gave the highest priority to building online information organized by topic not agency. The effort was referred to as WebGov, managed by a dedicated team at GSA who had been doing the spadework on the project for several years. In the very early spring, we took this effort to the President's Management Council and it was given enthusiastic support. Shortly thereafter we were approached by Internet entrepreneur Eric Brewer with the offer of a powerful search engine and database he would develop and donate. The search engine, which will be described more fully by GSA Administrator David Barram, was a major catalyst in bringing all government information together in a way that the American people can find, quickly and easily. As we finalized our plans we discovered, as often happens in the Internet world, the name was similar to other existing portals. We chose the name FirstGov to signify the citizens' first click to electronic government.

Last June, the President announced FirstGov in his first-ever webcast address to the nation, challenging government and industry to finish creating it within 90 days. Exactly 90 days later -- in Internet time -- the President announced the launch of this site. Building on President Clinton's and Vice President Gore's efforts to expand citizen access to online government, FirstGov will cut red tape, make government more responsive to the needs of citizens, and expand opportunities for participation in our democracy.

Specifically, in a September 22 Internet address to the nation, President Clinton announced the launch of the first-ever U.S. Government web site that provides the public with easy, one-stop access to all federal government online information and services. This web site - located at www.firstgov.gov - provides a single online information portal that connects Americans with information and resources to one of the largest and most useful collection of web pages in the world. A breakthrough in one-stop shopping for government services, FirstGov allows citizens to conduct searches faster and more efficiently, by topic rather than by agency, and to have easy access to federal government information 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

FirstGov allows users to search all 27 million Federal agency web pages at one time. And it has plenty of room to grow. It can search half a billion documents in less than one-quarter of a second and handle millions of searches a day. The Web Site also provides access to the home pages of major agencies and entities in all three branches of government, a section that provides topics of current interest to web users (e.g., a direct link to the Weather Service during hurricane season, to NASA during a shuttle launch, or to IRS during tax season), and key sites that access State and local government web pages. To increase efficiency, FirstGov allows citizens to find information intuitively -- by subject or by keyword.

The initial response to FirstGov has been largely favorable. Initial estimates show that after the first four days, about a quarter of a million people had visited the site. More interestingly, web traffic has increased for agencies with the launch of FirstGov: The Department of Transportation reported a large increase and the cross-agency site Disability.Gov reported a nearly 3-fold increase. In addition, the online customer feedback about FirstGov is widely supportive: of roughly 700 messages received by FirstGov in its first week, the vast majority were both supportive of the site and excited about the opportunity to help make the site better through their comments. Finally, to demonstrate the support for FirstGov among IT professionals, at a conference last week of State Chief Information Officers involving the Federal CIO Council, the States said they thought FirstGov was a tremendous advance and asked how they could work with the CIO council and be a part of it! In this way we can build on the success at the Federal level and move toward transformation that links all levels of government.

The ability to find government information and services intuitively and quickly is the key to making electronic government succeed. It does not matter how many or how useful government on-line services are if they cannot be found is a straightforward manner. FirstGov is the initiative that helps to solve this problem. It indexes these efforts, currently found in many places across government, and provides that intuitive link.

FirstGov is a foundational element in our e-gov effort. Both the Director of OMB and I have given special attention to this project, and I sit on the governing board of FirstGov. GSA Administrator David Barram will give more details on FirstGov.

Where do we go from here?

FirstGov is a revolutionary step in the way that the government provides information and services. It provides easy and comprehensive access to all Federal online information. A visitor to a page that links to FirstGov need not know what agency provides student loans to get information on student loans; the search engine as well as the topic directory can provide this. And FirstGov partners may offer yet a third way to access the information in a way that fits the users needs. No other country in the world makes a comparable database available to the public.

Having said that, we are not content with the status quo. But, at the same time, I can't tell you exactly how we will go forward. The search engine and online indexes will become more useful over time. The search engine will learn which pages are the most useful to the citizens and display them more readily. The topic index will grow and encompass those sites most commonly looked for and accessed by the public. Ultimately, as agencies put more information online, FirstGov will be the catalyst for additional agency and cross-agency portals that continue to break down the existing stovepipes and lead to a real transformation in the way the government delivers information and services. Most importantly, citizen feedback will lead our efforts to make our information and services more available online. The public will point our way, and through their direction we will give them a comprehensive and responsive electronic government that works better for the American people.

Thank you for listening and thank you for your support for our efforts in this area. I look forward to answering any questions.

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