Connecting People to Government Information—Any Way They Want
- Category: Community Insights
- Last Updated: March 14 2013
- Published: September 01 2011
- Written by Bev Godwin, Director; Federal Citizen Information Center, GSA Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies
For more than 40 years, the Federal Citizen Information Center, part of the U.S. General Services Administration’s Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies (OCSIT) has been connecting people with government benefits, services, and consumer information. With a shared mission to give the public access to Federal Government information any way they want to receive it, OCSIT and the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP) community have many opportunities to collaborate and share resources.
In 2010, the public used OCSIT’s Web sites and services more than 181 million times. The centerpiece of the program is USA.gov, the official Web portal of the U.S. Government. The site pulls together millions of Federal, state and local government Web pages to help users find the government information they need, all in one place. More than 2.6 million visitors a month use USA.gov and its powerful search engine to find popular government services like getting a passport, applying for Social Security, learning about student aid and buying government surplus property. They can contact their elected officials; search a comprehensive FAQ database with the most popular questions people ask the government, and visit special sections dedicated to military families and veterans, seniors, and business and nonprofits. USA.gov also connects people to the latest information from the government during emergencies. To stay up-to-date on new and featured information from USA.gov, libraries and the public can sign up for email alerts, including the monthly USA.gov e-newsletter.
This year, USA.gov launched its own blog, providing fun and informative tips, photos and news alerts from across the government. The blog welcomes members of the FDLP community to become guest bloggers, sharing information about topics and issues that impact the lives of readers across the country.
GobiernoUSA.gov is USA.gov’s Spanish-language counterpart, serving nearly a half million visitors each month in search of information from the Government about citizenship and immigration, health, and more. GobiernoUSA.gov also syndicates popular original Spanish-language articles online and in print across the U.S. to help America’s growing Spanish-speaking population find and use government information and services.
USA.gov and GobiernoUSA.gov feature mobile sites (m.USA.gov and m.GobiernoUSA.gov) and constantly growing mobile app galleries to give people the tools in English and in Spanish that they need to navigate life on the go. Travelers can learn what they can take in their carry-on bags and how long they can expect to wait in security lines. There are apps for quick access to trusted medical information, finding the cheapest gas prices in town, identifying tree species by snapping a quick photo and more. USA.gov and GobiernoUSA.gov also share helpful information through their thriving social media communities on:
Last year, OCSIT connected more than 18 million times with the public through social media.
Many people prefer to talk to someone to get the answers to their questions about government benefits and services. Last year, more than 1.7 million people called OCSIT’s National Contact Center 1-800-FED-INFO (1-800-333-4636). English and Spanish-speaking information specialists are available Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. eastern time. Callers can also access recorded information about popular government topics 24 hours a day.
OCSIT’s publications program is its oldest component. Beginning in the early 1970s, a letter simply addressed to “Pueblo, Colorado 81009” was all it took to order a Consumer Information Catalog. The quarterly listing of more than 200 free and low-cost Federal consumer publications covers everything from staying healthy and managing your money to avoiding scams and starting a small business. The U.S. Government Printing Office’s Pueblo, Colorado distribution center remains OCSIT’s valued partner in getting printed publications into the hands of the public. Last year, the Pueblo facility distributed more than 32 million publications. People can still write to Pueblo, or they can visit the Publications.USA.gov online bookstore to read, order or download publications. Libraries and community groups can also sign up to receive Catalogs and publications to distribute in bulk.
Updated each year, OCSIT’s Consumer Action Handbook and its Spanish-language counterpart, the Guía del Consumidor are two of the most informative and popular consumer resources produced by the Federal Government. These guides help people make smart buying decisions and learn to write effective complaint letters for their consumer problems. The Handbook and Guía content, including up-to-date directories of consumer contacts at corporations, trade associations, Federal agencies and state and local consumer offices can also be found online at USA.gov and GobiernoUSA.gov. Libraries can order both the Handbook and the Guía in bulk to distribute to the public.
Kids.gov is the official kids’ portal for the U.S. Government. With links to more than 2,000 Federal, school and educational organization Web pages, it’s a safe place for kids to learn about science, history, math and more through games and fun activities. The kids’ sections are divided into kindergarten through fifth grade and sixth through eighth grade. There’s also a section for classroom and home educators filled with lesson plans, projects and homework assignments that are easy to integrate into any curriculum. And kids can be inspired to dream about the future by watching Kids.gov’s video podcasts spotlighting fascinating careers in the government, from astronaut to zoo veterinarian, to Library of Congress rare books conservator to White House chef.
Proving the power of American ingenuity, OCSIT’s Challenge.gov is the place where government and the public come together to solve problems in the areas of science and technology, health and public safety, energy and more. Through contests and challenges, the public can submit ideas, designs, computer programs and video entries to create solutions and win prizes. Libraries can subscribe to the Challenge.gov RSS feed to find out about the latest challenge opportunities that they can share with their users.
GSA’s Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies is constantly creating new ways to connect people with government information that can help them in their everyday lives. And OCSIT welcomes ideas and opportunities to better serve the FDLP community.