By: Charles Bowen
FirstGov.gov: A Good Starting Point
To get started, visit the site at http://www.firstgov.gov
It all started with the White House switchboard. When Bill
Clinton arrived at his then-new home in 1993, he found a phone
system so archaic that calls had to be transferred by operators
pushing plugs into holes in a board, just like a 1940s movie:
Hello, Central, give me Number 9.
In the months that followed, much of the public and the federal
government’s executive branch learned about cyberspace technology
at the same time. New computers came to the White House.
Electronic mail addresses were set up for the president and his
people. Online White House forums were established so Web surfers
could chat up Clinton’s new cyber-savvy staff.
When the White House subsequently established its own home page
on the Web, it inspired such a rush by businesses and other
government agencies to follow suit that newspapers began calling
it “the year of the Internet.” In just 12 months, the Web saw new
sites for the Senate and the House of Representatives, the
Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives,
Libertarians and Socialists. By Clinton’s 1996 re-election
campaign, the entire federal government and most state
governments had dug in digitally.
Now, as Clinton prepares to leave office, his Web wing unveils
the finesse of the whole Internet effort: an electronic front
door to all of wired Washington. FirstGov.gov brings us access to
about 20,000 government sites – more than 27 million online
pages of information – from a central point, all with a very
Instead of being centered on agencies or departments,
FirstGov.gov categorizes its sites by interests. Click a topic
and up come several featured links, followed by numerous related
links to various federal Web sites. If you want to move in a
faster lane, you can use a keyword search engine or browse
hierarchical listings of the three branches of government.
To use the resource, visit the site (http://www.firstgov.gov),
where the introductory page links to:
o Agriculture and Food, with links to farms, food, and nutrition.
Arts and Culture, including museums, history, grants, and
o Business and Economy, with business advisories, statistics and
o Common Interests, such as kids, disabilities, seniors, and
o Consumer Services and Safety covering recalls, complaints, safe
workspace issues, and more.
o Environment and Energy, from wetlands to weather.
o Federal Benefits and Grants, featuring links to Social
Security, Medicare, grants, and more.
o Healthy People, with data on diseases, insurance, hospitals,
o Home and Community, with local data, emergency numbers, mail,
and the like.
o Learning and Jobs, covering students, jobs, training, and
o Library and Reference, focusing on laws, regulations,
statistics, and publications.
o Money and Taxes, dealing with the IRS, the U.S. budget, etc.
o Public Service Opportunities, such as government jobs and
o Recreation and Travel, focused on parks, passports, air traffic
advisories, and more.
o Science and Technology, with links to patents, space, research,
o The U.S. in the World, covering defense, trade, immigration,
Other considerations in using FirstGov.gov for your writing and
The fast lane afforded by the search box on the introductory
page uses most of the de facto standards for Web searching. Put
quotation marks around search terms to specify a phrase rather
than separate words. Wild cards also are supported. Use the
asterisk (*) to find words that begin with a set of letters (air*
to find airplane, airline, etc.) and use a question mark (?) to
indicate a single letter (m?n would find man or men).
A “Site Map” link at the top of the introductory display takes
you to a one-stop look at the entire FirstGov.gov site. Also, an
“FAQ” link on the top of the screen provides access to an
extensive collection of frequently asked questions about the
While FirstGov.gov is primarily about federal information, the
site also has a wealth of state and local government data, too.
See the “State & Local” government section on the left column of
the introductory screen.
Bowen writes columns, articles and books from West Virginia, and is host of the daily Internet News syndicated radio show (http://www.netnewstoday.com).
Copyright 2000, Editor & Publisher