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USA.gov, the U.S. government’s official web portal, is designed to improve the public’s interaction with the U.S. government by quickly directing website visitors to the services or information they are seeking. USA.gov links to every federal agency and to state, local, and tribal governments, and is the most comprehensive site in—and about—the U.S. government. While the primary target audience of USA.gov is the American public, about 25 percent of USA.gov’s visitors come from outside the United States.
Until January 2007, USA.gov was known as FirstGov.gov. The name was changed in response to user suggestions and telephone surveys.
USA.gov is part of the Office of Citizen Services and Communications in the General Services Administration (GSA), and includes the Spanish-language web portal to U.S. government services, GobiernoUSA.gov (formerly espanol.gov). The portals, which are funded by U.S. taxpayers and are offered as a public service, are a member of the Office of Citizen Services and Communication’s family of websites that also includes pueblo.gsa.gov (the Federal Citizen Information Center), Kids.gov, ConsumerAction.gov, and WebContent.gov.
USA.gov receives more than 84 million visitors and GobiernoUSA.gov receives 1.5 million visitors. There are about five million links to USA.gov.
USA.gov began in 2000 when Internet entrepreneur Eric Brewer of Inktomi, whose early research in parallel computing was funded by the U.S. Department of Defense, offered to donate a powerful search engine to the government. That donation helped accelerate the government’s earlier work to create a government-wide portal. In June 2000, President Clinton announced the gift from the Federal Search Foundation, a nonprofit organization established by Brewer, and instructed that the portal, then called FirstGov.gov, be launched in 90 days.
FirstGov.gov was launched September 22, 2000, during a live webcast originating from the White House Oval Office. GSA and 22 federal agencies funded the initiative in 2001 and 2002. Since 2002, USA.gov has received an annual appropriation from the U.S. Congress. The website is one of President Bush's electronic government initiatives to help federal government agencies work together to focus on serving citizens and businesses more efficiently and cost-effectively by making their information and services easily accessible online.
USA.gov allows visitors to find information on its site in several ways: through a search engine; an index of links organized by audience, by topic, and by organization; a database of frequently asked questions; RSS feeds; e-mail alerts; and live chat.
- Search Engine
- USA.gov's search engine crawls an unprecedented 50 million web pages from federal, state, local, and tribal governments and U.S. territories. Powered by MSN Search and Vivísimo, the search clusters the results into categories and accesses many kinds of official government sources such as government podcasts, citizens’ frequently asked questions, and about 12 million government images. It also highlights information from Forms.gov, Fueleconomy.gov, USAJobs.gov, and MyMoney.gov.
- USA.gov offers an index of more than 10,000 links to official government information. The index is categorized by services and common topics, and can be accessed through five audience gateways: Citizens, Businesses and Nonprofits, Federal Employees, Government to Government (for state, local, and tribal governments), and Visitors to the U.S.
- The index links to diverse, useful, and timely citizen-centered government information and services that can help website visitors apply for a government job, register to vote, e-file their taxes, find government benefits, reserve a campsite at a national park, prepare for disasters, shop at government auctions, learn about visiting the United States, or report an unsafe product, among many other activities.
- The site's policy is to link to websites of the federal government, quasi-government agencies, and those created by public sector/private sector partnerships; state and local governments; and recognized Indian tribes. In rare instances, the sites link to websites that are not government-owned or government-sponsored if these websites provide government information and/or services in a way that is not available on an official government website.
- USA.gov's Frequently Asked Questions
- USA.gov's frequently asked questions database contains thousands of answers to the questions the public asks most via USA.gov or the contact center at 1 (800) FED-INFO. For more than 30 years, the contact center has been a source for answers to questions about consumer problems and government services. Visitors to USA.gov can click on the link to FAQs to see what the public is asking and to find their answers.
- If visitors still cannot find the government information they are looking for, they can call 1 (800) FED-INFO, e-mail USA.gov through the "Contact Us" link on USA.gov (e-mail inquiries receive a response within two business days), or get help through a live web chat service.
- RSS Feeds
- USA.gov offers RSS feeds to help the public stay up to date on useful government information. "USA.gov Updates: News and Features" announces the new content added to the USA.gov website, while "RSS de GobiernoUSA.gov: News and Updates" announces the new content added to the GobiernoUSA.gov website. "Popular Government Questions from USA.gov" features the most popular questions and answers related to the U.S. government from USA.gov’s frequently asked questions database. Website visitors can sign up for USA.gov RSS feeds, the GobiernoUSA.gov feed, or visit USA.gov’s RSS library for other government RSS feeds.
- E-mail Alerts
- Visitors to USA.gov can sign up for free e-mail alerts in both English and Spanish to learn when new content is added to the site’s most popular pages. The pages' subjects range from benefits, seniors, and Internet fraud to hurricane recovery, the arts, and parents.
- Live Chat
- USA.gov offers live chat in English, where service representatives can answer website visitors' questions about federal agencies, programs, benefits, or services.
- Gov Gab, USA.gov's new blog, will give consumers a fresh and interactive perspective on how they can use government resources to make their every day lives better, easier, and more fun. The five bloggers have diverse interests and points of view and post daily entries on a wide variety of topics. From saving money and visiting National Parks to finding out about the latest government auction, if there’s a government resource or service that the bloggers use in their daily lives, consumers will find it in a Gov Gab entry.
A part of USA.gov, GobiernoUSA.gov pulls together all of the U.S. government’s Spanish-language websites and makes them easily accessible to the public in one central location. The site, which was developed by Spanish speakers, represents an important outreach effort to some 43 million Americans who report speaking Spanish at home.
GobiernoUSA.gov features more than 900 external links and provides access to more than 125,000 government pages in Spanish. Although most of the resources are federal, the site also links to Spanish-language content provided by 42 states, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and local government websites.
Web visitors also can search all federal and state web pages for Spanish content through the site’s search engine, e-mail their questions and receive responses in Spanish, or call 1 (800) FED-INFO for help in Spanish and English. Spanish-speaking visitors can sign up for e-mail alerts in Spanish to let them know when new content is added to GobiernoUSA.gov. The website also offers information on the same topic in both English and Spanish by simply clicking on a toggle button.
Web Best Practices
USA.gov actively promotes best practices within the government web manager community to improve the overall quality of U.S. federal websites as well as public access to government information.
Interagency Committee on Government Information
USA.gov has a leadership role on the Interagency Committee on Government Information (ICGI), formed to meet requirements of the E-Government Act of 2002 (Public Law 107-347, 44 U.S.C. Ch 36). The ICGI drafts recommendations and shares effective practices for federal government information access, dissemination, and retention.
Web Managers Advisory Council
USA.gov sponsors the Web Managers Advisory Council, which the ICGI established in January 2004. The council is an interagency group of about 40 senior federal web managers from every cabinet-level agency, several independent agencies, and representatives from the judicial and legislative branches. The council developed recommendations for government-wide standards for U.S. federal public websites to comply with Sections 207(f)(1) and (2) of the E-Government Act of 2002 and other requirements.
The Web Managers Advisory Council serves as the steering committee for the much larger Web Content Managers Forum, an online exchange of more than 1,000 federal, state, and local web managers.
In collaboration with the Web Managers Advisory Council, USA.gov also sponsors:
- WebContent.gov, a "one-stop" website for government web professionals that provides guidance and resources to help them improve government websites. It includes information on federal website requirements and policies; common web content practices; staffing and governance issues; website design and usability; and performance measures.
- Web Manager University, which provides government web and usability specialists with a multidisciplinary curriculum that addresses the varied responsibilities of managing government websites. Current courses and seminars include User-Centered Design, Usability, and Accessibility; Web Management and Governance; Web Content and Information Architecture; Search Engines; Marketing Your Website; and Website Evaluation and Web Metrics, among other topics.
- Web Manager Best Practice Awards, which are given for outstanding federal websites, based on excellence in web content, interactivity, design, usability, evaluation, and innovation.
- Research-based Web Design and Usability Guidelines book, in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The publication contains detailed illustrations and directions to help federal web managers and developers ensure their sites are usable and follow design guidelines that are based on the latest industry research.
Crisis Response Initiatives
USA.gov is a critical destination for information during national disasters. After the September 11, 2001, attack on the United States, USA.gov became a major tool for the U.S. government to provide the most accurate, timely, and comprehensive information, resources, and government services available during that crisis.
Several years later, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in August 2005, USA.gov coordinated web-related resources among more than 1,000 government Web Content Managers Forum members. The forum was the only group in place with the ability to develop a coordinated Federal web response to Hurricane Katrina. It quickly adopted guidelines for federal web managers, such as priority content posted on Federal websites would be information related to saving life, sustaining life, and facilitating comprehensive recovery, and that duplication of information would confuse the public and should be avoided.
For three weeks after the disaster, USA.gov participated in daily conference calls among key members of the web forum to learn what the public was asking about most frequently by phone and e-mail. The web forum members categorized the subjects and assigned them to federal websites based on their areas of expertise.
For example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention became responsible for all health and safety information related to the hurricanes. The other federal websites then linked to that site for that particular information, using the same terminology across the various federal websites.
The continuing communication among the members of the federal web community allowed them to react quickly and make adjustments easily as they identified new or changing information. In addition, the public could find information more easily because the major federal government sites were all linking to the same sites and using the same terminology.
Finally, the categories identified during Katrina matched information people would be looking for in "any" disaster, whether natural or man-made. The federal web community can now re-use a good deal of the content developed in response to the hurricane crisis, to enable them to be even better prepared when the next disaster occurs.
A Model to Other Government Websites
USA.gov serves as a model for other government websites and strictly adheres to all requirements and guidelines for federal websites, including those established by the E-Government Act of 2002, the U.S. Office of Management and Budget's Policies for Federal Public Websites, and Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 regarding website accessibility. The site also strictly follows requirements of the Privacy Act, the Federal Information Security Management Act, and other privacy and security requirements.
USA.gov has won numerous awards and media endorsements, including listing among the "Best of..." by Money Magazine, "Favorite Places on the Web" by the Chicago Sun Times, "Hot Sites" by USATODAY.com, and "Top 100 Classic Sites" by PC Magazine. It also has won "#1 in Global E-Government Readiness" in the United Nations' Global E-Government Readiness Report 2005; "#1 in Overall Federal e-Government" by Brown University’s Taubman Center for Public Policy; and the "Innovations in American Government Award" by Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.
GobiernoUSA.gov was awarded as a finalist for the Arroba de oro, ("the golden @"), has won the Web Content Managers' "Best Practices" award, and consistently scores among the highest in government or private sectors in the American Customer Satisfaction Index.