From Uncle Sam to you

September 2000

You may or may not like to think about the federal government. Some see it as a helpful partner, others see it as a nemesis. And most find it entertaining. Whatever your view, it certainly is an extraordinary resource for information.

Recently the much-anticipated FirstGov web site went online--one-stop access to all online U.S. federal government resources.

Lest you think that government information is boring, consider the latest online offering of the Library of Congress: all 51 diaries and diary fragments written by George Washington between 1748 and December 13, 1799., the day before his death. You don't have to be a history maven to appreciate the rich interest of this first-hand account of the birth of our country. You can search the diaries by keyword or you can browse them. Also included are introductions to the diaries and annotations that identify the people mentioned in the text and explain their relationship to Washington.

FirstGov will direct you to this special documents section of the Library of Congress and to some 20,000 other government sites, comprising over 27 million web pages. You might expect that a government portal or directory would be organized by department, but in fact FirstGov offers a more Yahoo-like directory, with categories of "Interesting Topics" that include Arts & Culture, Consumer Services, Money & Taxes, Learning & Jobs, Library & Reference, Science & Technology, and more. Clicking on a topic brings up a page of links, including several featured links at the top.

In addition to the Interesting Topics directory, there is also a hierarchical listing of departments and agencies. And you can search by keyword. You will also find links to state and local government.

The site offers "Featured Subjects," which highlight timely and interesting government sites as well as new sites. I clicked on the "School Stuff" link, which offered a page of links to items such as financial aid, an interactive student budget calculator, and a link called "Student Gateway," which turned out to be a real gem. Just about anything you could imagine that would be of interest to a student is here: info about getting a passport, finding a job, filing taxes, getting scholarships, studying abroad, changing addresses, registering with Selective Service, reserving campsites, contacting senators, joining the Peace Corps, registering to vote, getting a driver's license, applying for veteran's benefits, and more.

The site is titled "Access America for Students." Apparently there are other equally rich "Access America" sites for senior citizens, workers, exporters, and others.

The government offers a huge amount of information--you just need to find it. And FirstGov is a great place to start.

© 2000 by Jim Karpen, Ph.D.

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