ResearchWire - Using Search Services and Databases to Access Federal Government Services

Cindy A. Pitchon is User Support Specialist at the Health Sciences Libraries Consortium in Philadelphia, PA.


Taking a trip abroad -- need to apply for a passport or visa? Hiring a new employee who needs a social security card? Need information on Medicare and Medicaid benefits? Can't locate U.S. Tax Form 2350? All this information is available to you via electronic access through several excellent government subject-specific search servers and databases that are designed to provide you with electronic access to federal government services. In this article we will take a look at several Web sites, including The Whitehouse, healthfinder and the U.S. Business Advisor.

 

 

Let's start our quest for electronic access to the federal government right at the top. One of the best government databases can be found at The Whitehouse. When you have successfully connected to The Whitehouse, clicking on "Commonly Requested Federal Services" provides you with "one-stop" access to Federal services such as online transactions, application forms and publications for printing and downloading. As stated by the web development team, "Our goal is to offer the American people the ability to conduct all of their business with the Federal government electronically."

Politics aside, the Whitehouse Web masters have successfully met their goal. Links are provided to more than 20 Federal agencies that offer application forms for passports and visas, copyright and patents, and social security cards.

To browse the information provided by each agency, click on View By Agency, where you will find the official seal of each agency. Need to locate information provided by the U.S. State Department -- click on its seal to find links to passport and visa applications, travel warnings and tips for travelers. Interested in the Peace Corps -- click on its seal to access information about becoming a Peace Corp volunteer and learn about the places and people where volunteers serve. A review of services offered by the General Services Administration reveals that the agency is creating an "electronic Blue Pages" which will display the phone numbers and contact information for government services in an increasing number of geographic locations. According to the Webmaster, this feature should be ready before the end of the summer.

When viewing this site By Subject, you will find information on benefits and assistance, education, health, science and technology, travel and tourism, consumer protection, employment and taxes, housing, and doing business with the government. If you're renting a new apartment or buying a new home and need to know about lead hazards, just click on Housing Information… ; clicking on Consumer Protection - Fraud will provide you with links to the Federal Trade Commission's (FTC's) Consumer Response Center and Telemarketing Fraud Center.

Looking for health-related government information will lead you to the healthfinderä gateway Web site, which offers news and information on over 1,000 health and human services topics. Launched in April, 1997, healthfinderä is a consumer health Web site from the U.S. government. Developed by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in collaboration with other agencies, healthfinderä provides links to selected online publications, clearinghouses, databases and government agencies that provide access to consumer health and human service resources. According to the site statistics, "…healthfinderä served Internet users over 1.7 million times in its first year online." Once you begin using this site, it's easy to see why it has become so popular.

To examine the features of healthfinderä, let's see what we can find on Medicare. Under "hot topics" you will find the top 20 topics users are most interested in. Clicking on Medicare quickly produces a list of approximately 35 resources from both the federal government (identified by a small American flag) and private organizations. After the title of each resource is a details link that gives you a description of the resource and its sponsoring organization. For organizations, a description and contact information is provided, making it possible to extend your research even further.

As you navigate through healthfinderä , you will notice that the top of each page has a text search bar containing "topics a-z." healthfinderä 's topics search contains a list of over 1,000 topics, which you can browse by first choosing a letter of the alphabet and then choosing a topic from the list. You might want to use "topics a-z" to extend your search to include medicaid, medigap insurance and any other related topics.

Back at the healthfinderä start page, or by using the navigation bar located along the bottom of each page, we can continue our search for information on Medicare by looking in "more tools." Listed here are many different types of online information resources that can be used to locate more in-depth information on any topic. Looking under "libraries" will provide you with access to national medical libraries, including the National Library of Medicine, where you can access Internet Grateful Med and Pub Med to extend your search. "Online journals" currently provides access to 60 medical journals, some of which provide free access to current articles. A recent search of the "American Medical News" journal yields extensive information on the recently released Medicare reform rules.

Also available under "more tools" are links to toll-free health information numbers, federal health information clearinghouses, and state health departments. A search of medicare-related toll-free health information numbers leads us to the Health Care Financing Administration, the federal agency that administers the Medicare and Medicaid insurance programs.  "Smart choices" and "just for you" contain hand-picked Web resources that have been organized to make it easy for you to find information about your health by category, by age, or by racial or ethic group. Four new sections focus on "smart choices" about a healthy lifestyle, doctors, health care, and health insurance. The subtopic "choosing a health plan" will lead to Medicare and Medicaid information for consumers along with a list of Medicare Peer Review Organizations in all fifty states.

If you're looking for information on doing business with the federal government, the U.S. Business Advisor is the site for you. Developed by the Small Business Administration and National Performance Review, the goal of the site …is to make the relationship between business and government more productive."

You can get information from the U.S. Business Advisor in five ways: Common Questions, How To…, Search, Browse and News. If you have a question about filing your taxes electronically, clicking on Taxes under Common Questions will link you to the IRS Frequently Asked Tax Questions and Answers. If you need to locate and download a tax form, clicking on How To… will link you directly to IRS Forms and Publications.

The Search feature is available to help you locate information that is not readily available under Common Questions or How To … and the Browse feature organizes information from Federal agencies by subject. For current information of interest to the general business community, the News page provides access to the National Partnership for Reinventing Government (formerly known as the National Performance Review).

Remember the days of spending hours on the telephone and being transferred a half dozen times when trying to track down information from the federal government, be it a publication or government form? As you begin to use The Whitehouse, healthfinderä and the U.S. Business Advisor, hopefully they will help in making access to government services a lot less cumbersome.