the 1990s, all branches of the federal government worked together to make
government information products more accessible to the American public.
The White House, Congress, and the Government Printing Office (GPO) worked
on plans and key legislation designed to make the distribution of government
information less costly, more efficient, and more timely for consumers,
citizens, and researchers. To do so required the government to move away
from a static and costly distribution media (mostly print, but also including
microfiche and microfilm) and embrace digital media as the future mechanisms
to distribute government information products. Digital media initially
included CD-ROMs, but now more and more it means distribution via the Internet
and its Web.
The move away from
print products to electronic products has had a direct impact on the type
of information released. The government now releases reports, studies,
bills, congressional testimony, press releases, government forms, and statistics
via the Internet on a regular and frequent basis. Many of these same documents
and resources, previously available only in print, are now available from
GPO Access as electronic documents (both HTML and PDF).
However, the federal
government has gone beyond the distribution of previously available print
documents. It has also developed electronic tools that allow citizens and
researchers to tap into and interact with the wealth of information collected
by the government. Many of these electronic tools or databases are now
available exclusively on the Web.
The number of government
databases is considerable and growing all the time. GPO Access alone makes
available database resources that cover all aspects of the federal government's
areas of interest and activity — congressional/legislative, executive,
judicial, regulatory, and administrative decisions [http://www.access.gpo.gov/].
The GPO is not the only government agency that produces information products
and distributes them over the Web. Most executive branch agencies have
Web sites and make a great deal of information available on them — press
releases, reports, surveys, and data collections.
come in all different flavors and topics — business, legislative, and scientific.
In the area of business the EDGAR database from the Securities and Exchange
Commission and Commerce Business Daily, the procurement database that lists
business opportunities with the federal government, help business researchers
and those wanting to do business with the government. Legislative information
is provided by the Library of Congress's THOMAS, a fabulous set of databases
that includes congressional bills, the Congressional Record, and committee
hearings. THOMAS is powered by InQuery — an absolutely terrific information
retrieval system. In the area of science and medicine the federal government
truly excels, with the availability of Medline/PubMed [http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/],
the DOE Information Bridge [http://www.osti.gov/bridge/],
and PubScience [http://pubsci.osti.gov/].
At present, the
federal government makes most of this information available free of charge
to the American public. One hopes that current and future administrations
and Congress will continue a liberal policy on the distribution and dissemination
of information collected by the government.
In September 2000
and April 2001, respectively, two important tools became available on the
Internet. In September 2000, the government launched FirstGov.gov, the
federal government's portal and search engine for government information.
FirstGov.gov is an attempt to make it easier for the average citizen to
find information made available by the federal government.
In April of 2001,
the Census Bureau began to release on a daily basis the vast statistical
information gathered from the 2000 Census. The Census Bureau has made this
information available through its American FactFinder site. American FactFinder
is the Census Bureau's distribution tool for the Decennial Census of Population
and Housing. The tool has been designed to take the wealth of Census material
and make it more accessible than ever before. Having begun collecting census
material in 1790, the federal government still finds itself facing the
challenge of distributing census data effectively.
Each of these new
government Web tools has been designed to help end users find answers to
specific questions. How well these tools deliver on this goal is the subject
a public-private collaboration designed to develop a "one-stop" shop for
government information. Prior to the release of FirstGov.gov, searchers
often struggled in their attempts to find government information. Searches
required coping with an array of search engines on different government
agency Web sites, the unfriendly and infrequently updated Government Information
Locater Service (GILS), or learning a variety of commercial/non-profit
search services like Google/Unclesam [http://www.google.com/unclesam],
the Center for Intelligent Information Retrieval's now defunct GovBot,
or Northern Light's usgovsearch engine [http://usgovsearch.northernlight.com/].
Other commercial search engines also indexed some government material,
but never completely. No single commercial engine covered the entire body
of government documents released by the federal government or even its
executive branch alone.
In December 1999,
President Clinton issued a memorandum to the heads of executive departments
and agencies instructing them to embrace technologies and resources that
would help them institute electronic government at their agencies and departments.
The Memorandum called on the agencies and departments to make federal forms
and transactions available online, to safeguard end-user privacy, and to
provide access for the disabled. The first item of the Directive specifically
called for the establishment of a "one-stop shop" for government information
to be made available on the Internet. The President also stipulated that
the information should be organized by the type of information rather than
by the agency1.
The President's Management Council (PMC), comprised of the chief operating
officers from the major departments and agencies, immediately adopted the
goals of "electronic government," for the year 2000 with the construction
of a "one-stop shop" as the cornerstone of its activities.
In March 2000,
Dr. Eric Brewer, the founder and chief scientist of the Inktomi Corporation,
approached the Clinton administration with an offer to help the federal
government embrace electronic government. Brewer offered to develop a search
engine, at no cost to the government, which would search across the 27
million Web pages currently available on government servers. He made the
offer for several reasons — he wanted to build a search engine that would
allow the public to gain access to these Web pages. Second, despite the
difficulty of the challenge, he wanted to develop a tool that could "promote
a government that understands and uses the Internet to its full potential;
that is a government in which everyone not only uses the Internet, but
also views it as a primary medium for communication and public service."2
the motivation behind his offer in somewhat personal terms. He had received
a grant from DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) when a faculty
member at the University of California at Berkeley. With this grant, he
was able to develop a new technology that allowed him to build the Inktomi
Corporation. Now he had decided to give something back to the federal government,
based on the technology that the government had supported way back when.
To make it work,
Brewer created the Federal Search Foundation, a not-for-profit charitable
organization funded through private donations and in-kind contributions.
Brewer himself currently supports the Foundation, but it has also received
in-kind donations from both Inktomi and Sun Microsystems. The charter of
the foundation is to provide a search engine at no cost to the government
for not only the FirstGov.gov site, but any other federal government site.
The Federal Search
Foundation, however, has a life expectancy of 3 years; after that time,
it will cease to exist. Everything will be turned over to the federal government
except for one big thing — the database, the repository of federal agency
URLs. When the federal government agreed to accept Dr. Brewer's gift, it
was under the assumption, states Sally Katzen, former OMB Deputy Director,
that "there wasn't supposed to be anything proprietary." However, the memorandum
of understanding signed by Dr. Brewer and General Services Administration
(GSA) administrator David J. Barram in September 2000 stated that the Federal
Search Foundation intended to use Inktomi's proprietary software to build
the search engine. Furthermore, the memorandum goes on to state that if
the government chose a different search engine competitor, after the 3
years were up, "the connections to Inktomi will be disconnected and the
[FirstGov] servers will be purged of software and data prior to donation
to GSA." Essentially, if the government chooses another search engine vendor,
the new vendor will have to build the search engine from scratch. By offering
the database to the government, free of charge, and by accepting the database
offer, the standard procurement process seems to have been circumvented.
Inktomi stands in a very desirable position to take over the FirstGov.gov
search engine and gain a lucrative contract in the process. The GSA is
responsible for the FirstGov.gov Web site front-end and content decisions,
while the Federal Search Foundation is responsible for building, improving,
and maintaining the search engine component of the site.3
On June 24th, 2000,
President Clinton announced plans to launch FirstGov.gov in a Webcast.
He pledged the site would be up and running in 90 days. FirstGov.gov was
released to the public on September 22, 2000 — exactly 90 days after President
Clinton's Webcast in June. Since its release, the site has undergone continuous
revision and the Federal Search engine has increased its crawl from .gov
and .mil sites to include .us (state) sites as well. Since
its release, the search engine has grown from 27 million pages to over
50 million pages. The GSA is responsible for day-to-day operation of the
site and the Federal Chief Information Officers Council and 22 other federal
agencies funded it for the year 2000. In the Federal Budget for 2002, President
George W. Bush has proposed $100 million to support electronic government
for a 3-year period.
What kind of information
did the FirstGov.gov search engine set out to find on all the government
servers? The foundation search engine initially covered Web sites that
have a .gov and .mil in their primary domain name. (Note
— since it was built, the Federal Search engine has also begun to index
state government information that uses .us as its domain suffix).
The .gov and .mil domains include Congress, the U.S. courts,
the White House, and all cabinet departments, independent agencies, and
some state Web sites. The search engine index includes only publicly available
documents. It excludes any information that is classified, private, password-protected,
or firewall-protected. Having said this, each agency and department had
to look long and hard at what information was made available on the servers,
what information was deemed appropriate, and what was not. Although this
information was made available prior to the release of FirstGov.gov, now
there would be an easier way of obtaining the information with the launch
of the Federal-Search engine. It is the strict policy of the Federal Search
Foundation and FirstGov.gov not to censor the content found by the search
engine. FirstGov.gov and the Federal Search Foundation believe the responsibility
to remove any documents inappropriate for public access belongs to the
agencies and their Webmasters.
Structure of the Site
The site is organized
into several sections: "Featured Subjects," "Transactions, Forms, and Services,"
"Government by Organization," "Contact Your Government," "Horizontal Menu
Bar," "Search Options," and "Browse Government by Topic."
The first section
on the left, "Feature Subjects," changes frequently to include the "hot
or current" topics in the news. The subjects change on a monthly basis.
Previous hot topics appear in the "Past Features" subsection.
Transactions, Forms, and
The second section
is organized into three categories — E-Citizen, E-Business, and E-Government.
In each of the three categories, users will find transaction options, forms,
and services relevant to the different groups.
If you want to
buy a national park pass, gifts from the White House gift shop, or stamps,
go to the E-Citizen area. If you think you might like to do business with
the federal government, then take a look at E-Business. Here you will find
links to the U.S. Business Advisor, government auctions, and FedBizOpps
(the government portal for federal business opportunities). You will also
find tax forms and applications as well as a link to the government federal
forms portal [http://www.fedforms.gov].
The E-Government section provides links to government-to-government transactions
and services for businesses. This subsection has links to auctions, asset
sales, and surplus property for federal, state, local, and international
government sales worldwide. You can also find links to federal forms, government
contacts, and other resources.
I think each link
should have a brief annotation that explains what kind of information is
available at the site. As of now, you have to go to the different sites
to find out what each offers and, unless you have experience with the site,
you have no idea what to expect or where to look.
Government by Organization
This section contains
links to the federal executive (including the White House and executive
agencies), the legislative branch, and judicial agencies. It also provides
access to all 50 state Web sites and other state and local information,
as well as links to international government Web portals.
Contact Your Government
If you need to
contact the federal government, FirstGov.gov provides links to contacting
different government groups. You can contact your government by topic,
by agency, state governors, and your congressional representatives. The
list of contacts is quite helpful, especially with the inclusion of the
e-mail address for specific agencies and departments. In addition to an
e-mail address, FirstGov.gov provides links to Webmaster addresses, as
well as general contact information (phone, address). Many of the agencies
have set up an e-mail form that can be filled out and sent right from agency
One caveat: FirstGov.gov
is receiving a great deal of e-mail by the public regarding general reference
type questions. At this point, FirstGov.gov cannot really handle the large
volume of e-mail requests it receives, but it does try to forward the e-mail
requests to the correct agency. One solution to this problem would be to
explore the possibility of online reference desk. The e-mails could go
to an online reference desk service where librarians would try to answer
questions or forward them on to appropriate agencies. This would truly
be responsive e-government.
Horizontal Menu Bar
menu bar provides basic administrative information about the site. "Help,"
"About Us," "Privacy and Security," "Site Map," and "Contact" information
provide housekeeping details about the site. If you have privacy concerns,
take a look at the on "Privacy and Security" section. Here you can learn
what kind of information FirstGov.gov collects from you when you visit
Search Engine: How Does
the Fed-Search Engine Work?
search engine provided by Inktomi Corporation sends out a spider or robot
to a particular Web site. Beginning at a specific starting point the search
engine downloads the full text of that starting page. The words on the
page are then used to create an index. Once the entire page has been compiled
into the index, the spider uses the links that it finds on the page to
recursively examine the entire site. This process, known as crawling, indexes
each subsequent page and downloads the text into the database index. The
process continues until it has exhausted all the links for a given starting
point. The index created is called a seed list.
The Federal Search
engine uses the URL seed list as the starting point for its index. The
search engine crawls all links found on each one of these sites until all
links are exhausted. The search engine only indexes sites that end with
the .gov, .mil, and .us domain name tags. (Note: In
May 2001, FirstGov.gov began to add state government Web sites. This will
add about 20 million additional Web sites to the FirstGov.gov search engine).
The domain names for .com, .net, .org, and numeric
IP addresses are not included in the index, unless specifically added.
This can be somewhat troublesome, because some government organizations
have chosen to use .edu, .org, or .com in their domain
names. These sites will not be included in the index. One example of this
is the Smithsonian Institution [http://www.si.edu],
which uses .edu as its extension. Also, if you look for the Sourcebook
of Criminal Justice Statistics, 1999, you will only find a mention
of it on the Justice Department Site. To use the Sourcebook, you
will have to go to the State University of New York at Albany [http://www.albany.edu/sourcebook/].
The U.S. Postal Service has set up a site [http://www.usps.com];
therefore USPS' Web content will also not appear on the FirstGov.gov search
The search engine
is refreshed twice a month beginning on the 1st and 15th. The crawling
process generally takes about 72-96 hours, with an additional 36 hours
of compiling before the entire index is replaced. The Fed-Search engine
also can conduct "mini-crawls," used for time-sensitive data that cannot
wait for the 2-week interval. However, this requires a special request.
The spider does
not index classified documents or those sitting behind firewalls, password-protected
areas, or hidden areas not on the URL seed list. According to the Federal
Search Foundation's FAQ, the spider respects all no-robots.txt files for
the entire site or for particular areas of a given site excluded from the
crawl. (Robot.txt files are instruction files that spiders read before
examining a site. The Robots.txt files are simple .txt files that can block
sensitive information, both directories and documents. The Inktomi spider
follows the RES [Robots Exclusion Standard] that will block any site or
document that sets up a Robots.txt file for that site and pages.)
The Federal Search
engine also reads the standard metatags read by most commercial search
engines — Author, Description, and Keywords.
search engine ranks results based solely on comparing the user's search
query to the text content of Web pages in the index. Basic factors affecting
a page's ranking include the words in the title, keyword metatags, word
frequency in the document, and document length:
Word frequency in
a document — in general, the more often a query word occurs in the document,
the higher the score.
Search words in title
— pages that use your search terms in the title will rank significantly
higher than documents that contain the search term in the text only.
Search words in Keywords
— pages that use your search term in the keywords metatag, will rank more
highly than text words, but less highly than title words.
Document length —
when the search term appears frequently in a short document, the page will
rank higher than when the word appears in a long document.
I have found the
search features and the help instructions of the Fed-Search Engine somewhat
idiosyncratic. In the course of several test searches, I found the help
facilities confusing in attempting to explain what the search engine does.
It would help more if the search instructions were made available in terms
of Boolean searching (AND, OR, NOT), as well as phrase and proximity searching.
I understand that the Federal Search engine is designed for the general
population, but, with the popularity of Google and Alta-Vista, the designers
have created more confusion than help with the instructions provided.
GSA has issued
an RFP for a new search engine. Proposals were to be delivered by the middle
of July 2001. GSA asked vendors and industry leaders to submit suggestions
for "search service solutions" that can power the FirstGov.gov search engine.
It is hoped that the new search engine designers will provide better help
instructions more in line with commercial search engine techniques.
The search engine
has two search options, simple or basic search and advanced search. At
this point, the Fed-Search engine has undergone many enhancements and GSA
staff is working with librarians and staff at the GPO to develop a taxonomy
of government terms to make it easier to find relevant documents.
default searches for all keywords entered.
Exact Match Query
— use mixed uppercase and lowercase letters in a keyword search or phrase
if you want FirstGov.gov to search for the words only when an exact match
is desired. If you want the search engine to look for all uses of your
keyword or phrase, then use all uppercase or all lowercase.
In the Advanced
Search page begin by selecting one of the choices:
marks, commas, or Boolean connectors are not required.
A series of drop-down
options for keyword searches
All Words —
all words typed in the search box must appear in each result
Any Words —
any or all of the words typed in the search box must appear in each result
The Exact Phrase
— the exact phrase typed in the search box must appear in each result
of Keywords in the Document
Federal or State
this looks for the designated search terms anywhere on the page of all
publicly accessible government and military pages
Domain — this
looks for the designated search terms in a specific domain (.gov,
— this looks for the designated search terms anywhere on the top level
home pages of all publicly accessible government and military Web sites.
Web page titles
— this looks for the designated search terms anywhere in the Web page title
of all publicly accessible government and military Web pages.
In this section,
you can choose to limit your search to federal government information,
state government information, or you can select both federal and state.
Be careful with selecting both because you might be overwhelmed with the
number of hits. Better to select the state you need rather than doing a
global search — unless you seek information on a specific topic for all
of the states.
can be added by clicking on the "add more terms" option.
You can select
how many results you want displayed. The default is 10 detailed; this will
return 10 results per page and detailed descriptions of the results. You
can also select 100 results per page, but that display option will provide
no descriptions for each result.
This section is
the largest of the entire Web site and its Yahoo-esque design is intended
to make it easier for end users to find government information based on
a topic rather than by agency. The sites are arranged alphabetically and
include such topics as "agriculture and food," "health," "money and taxes,"
and "library and reference." Clicking on a topic will open a page that
provides a brief description at the top of the page of the kind of information
you will find, along with an extensive list of links. The links are organized
into "featured links" and "related links." However, the links themselves
are not annotated, so you will have to find which site you need through
browsing or trying the search engine. Annotations for each link would significantly
enhance this section.
Another area is
the cross-agency centers. These link to cross agency government portals
that deal with specific topics such as disabilities, kids, seniors, and
workers. Several agencies have teamed up to provide information on a single
topic pulled together from different agencies and sources. These "one-stop-shopping"
sites can prove very helpful for end users. More "cross-agency" portals
need to be developed to facilitate access to government information.
My reaction to
FirstGov.gov is that it is an extraordinary effort to get federal digital
distribution facilitation of information off the ground. Consumers, citizens,
business leaders, and researchers should find it a very useful and valuable
tool. However, more needs to be done. End users use the Internet as a utility-based
medium — I have a question and I need an answer. The government is not
the only organization trying to find a way to make searching for information
easier, faster, and more efficient. Adding more and more pages to a search
engine is only useful if the information sought can be found. Otherwise,
it only makes for greater and greater frustration.
The search engine
component is slowly getting better, but search results need more focus
and refinement. Search instructions have also improved, but are still idiosyncratic
in comparison to standard search terminology. Specific examples of how
to search using the advanced search features would certainly help. In this
regard, designers might want to look at the Help sections from the Library
of Congress' THOMAS or GPO Access. Both have excellent Help sections that
walk the user through the search process. FirstGov also needs to add advanced
search features that can limit to specific federal agencies, specific states,
etc. The content areas should have annotations with useful descriptions
of what patrons will find. The repository of government information available
on the Internet is a valuable resource that will only grow in importance
and utility for all Americans.
a great idea and well on its way to being a very useful and valuable government
tool. Even though it is not quite there yet, FirstGov.gov should not be
Since April 2001,
newspapers have been reporting interesting demographic changes to the American
family. For the first time, Americans can find out a great deal of demographic
information from the 2000 Census quickly and easily. To make this happen,
the Census Bureau developed a tool — American FactFinder — to make it easy
to find demographic information.
Before the development
of American FactFinder, the Decennial Census of Population and Housing
was made available through numerous printed volumes and miles of magnetic
tape. The 1990 Census introduced the use of CD-ROMs as a means of distributing
Census data, but dissemination of Census material was still very expensive
and inefficient. Many of the reports and predefined Census products were
never used by the public, leading Census Bureau managers to seek another
way to distribute this information in cost-effective, efficient, and easy-to-use
media. Today, the Census Bureau distributes the 2000 Census material through
American FactFinder (AFF), an innovative and functional distribution tool.
is the brainchild of the Data Access and Dissemination Systems Program
(DADS). The DADS group realized that information technology could make
Census material much more directly accessible by giving the public what
they wanted, rather than what the Census Bureau had determined would be
of value to the general public. To that end the Bureau developed a tool
accessible through the Internet as its primary distribution vehicle, one
that could support the widest range of internal and external users, regardless
of end-user hardware platform configuration.
The American FactFinder
was built with several important principles. First the system has a scalable
production system. As usage grows over time, the system will be able to
handle increased demands. It is designed to handle the widest range of
end users, including novice and expert end users, as well as different
hardware environments. It can manage and distribute very large data sets
that are updated regularly. It protects confidential information. Lastly,
the system has to be able to grow over time in both the number of users
and the adding of new data sets and new functional capabilities.
The system infrastructure
consists of 41 UNIX (AIX) server nodes and 12.5 terabytes of storage capacity.
The designers of AFF wanted to build a tool that could take all of the
data and make it responsive to the needs of the end user — whatever that
might be. Dynamic content in AFF is supported by a large Java implementation
with approximately 200 servlets, 100 Java Server Pages, and a large data
warehouse that contains Census metadata and data. Consequently, with all
of this programming and hardware firepower, American FactFinder can handle
between 3,000 and 5,000 dynamic queries simultaneously, before you get
a busy signal. In fact, the Census Bureau is designing the system to accommodate
somewhere between 5 million and 7 million "hits" against AFF per week.
Pretty ambitious goals.
currently includes (as of August 2001):
2000 Census Basic
Population and Housing Data (PL94-171) information for all states (total
population and race)
1990 Census Basic
and Detailed Tables
Survey, 1996-1999 — ACS is a survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau
that provides profiles of selected communities every year. The information
collected will provide estimates of demographic, housing, social, and economic
characteristics every year for all states, as well as for all cities, counties,
metropolitan areas, and population groups of 65,000 people or more.
997 Economic Census
Data — The Economic Census provides a detailed portrait of the nation's
economy every 5 years, from the national to the local level.
Basic Reference Maps
(2000 and 1990 Geography)
Thematic Maps (2000
and 1990 Geography)
Search Address Feature
is organized into several sections — "Keyword and Place Name Searching,"
the "Basic Facts," "Items of Interest," FactFinder Data Sources," "Data
Sets" option, "Reference Maps," and "Thematic Maps."
Each section provides
access to specific types of information. The information is broken down
into several groups — Quick Tables, Geographic Comparison Tables, Detailed
Tables, and Thematic Maps.
are a predefined list of tables that offer quick access to frequently requested
information regarding a single geographic area. The information includes
numerical data and derived measures (e.g., percent distributions and medians).
You choose a geographic area by selecting it from a list, searching for
the area by name (a specific city, a specific county, etc.), or clicking
on a map. FactFinder lets you choose more than one geographic area and
more than one table and displays each selected geography and table in a
scrolling list. Once you have selected the geographic area and chosen the
quick table(s) you want, you can create, print, and download the results.
Quick Tables present data for the United States and Puerto Rico only.
Tables provide a way to compare population and housing information
for similar geographic areas (all counties in a state, all census tracts
in a county, etc.). Select the geographic summary level, then pick the
predefined table you want to see. After you select the geographic summary
level and table, you can create, print, and download the table. Geographic
Comparison Tables present data for the United States and Puerto Rico only.
access to data from summary files. You begin by selecting one or more geographic
areas. Then you select a detailed table by keyword or subject (e.g., age,
sex, income, education, owner costs, etc.), or by selecting from a list
of table titles. Once you've made your selections, you can view, print,
or download the results. Census 2000 summary files, unlike those in previous
censuses, do include totals and subtotals. Detailed tables are available
for all areas in which the Census Bureau conducted Census 2000.
researchers to identify geographic patterns in statistical data. For example,
a thematic map could show the population density of Maryland by census
tract. To create a thematic map, choose a geographic area for your map
and then select the data to display. You can print or download the resulting
thematic map once you've made your selections. Thematic maps present data
for the United States and Puerto Rico only.
Keyword and Place Name
At the top left,
the search options feature appears. Here you can search by keyword or place
name. Use the keyword search feature for data and thematic maps. The keyword
search feature searches across all data files (Decennial, Economic Census
1997, and American Community Survey) and all thematic maps. You can also
search for multiple variables in the same table (age, race, or sex). The
"Search Results" section of the Keyword Search page lists the Products,
Publications, Quick Tables, Detailed Tables, Thematic Maps, and other items
that match the search criteria you entered. Keyword searching is a great
and efficient way to identify statistical data.
Place Name searching
is also a great way to find brief statistical information about a specific
place. Place Name searching returns brief statistical tables, thematic
maps, and reference maps. Once you have selected a place name, you will
have the option to select all of the available data sources or individual
censuses or surveys. The different data sources (2000 Census, 1990 Census,
1997 Economic Census, and the American Community Survey) will yield different
results. Once you have selected the census or survey, Place Name search
results will list Products, Reference Maps, Quick Tables, and Thematic
Maps from both the Census 2000 Redistricting Data (Public Law 94-171) Summary
File and the Census 2000 Summary File 1 (SF 1) 100-Percent Data.
The wealth of information
available is quite amazing and easily retrieved. One of the truly nice
features of AFF is the Help tool. You can get tailored help when you click
on the Help tab at the top right. Wherever you are in the search process,
the Help feature will help you complete the search you have undertaken.
Place Name searching
also retrieves thematic maps. The thematic maps are a handy way of revealing
patterns in the statistical data that map graphics make easier to read
and understand. Place Name searching provides thematic maps by Census Tract
and by Block Group (1990). You can also obtain thematic maps for county
searching and state searching. County searching from the 1990 Census yields
thematic maps by county subdivision, place, census tract, and block group.
State searching results in thematic maps broken down by county, county
subdivision, congressional district, and census tract.
Place Name searching
can also produce Reference Maps. Reference Maps are used to identify counties
in a state, cities or townships in a county, census tract, block group,
and block numbers. A Reference Map provides boundaries of tracts, block
groups, and blocks. Remember that the tract, block group, and block numbering
can vary from one Census to another. To add greater precision and depth
to the map, you can use the legend tool to add physical features to your
Reference map. You can also compare the differences between the 1990 Census
and the 2000 Census.
Basic Facts Option
In the center
of the page, you will see the "Basic Facts" section, which is really a
browse section that contains fast answers to the most commonly asked questions.
The Basic Facts section allows end users to select either tables or quick
maps. The goal here is to make finding data for one geographic area (nation,
state, county, or place) simple and easy. The tables option in the Basic
Facts section includes four types of tables and maps — Geographic Comparison
Tables, Quick Tables, Detailed Tables, and Thematic Maps.
The Quick Map feature
allows end users to map county level information for selected 2000 and
1990 populations, as well as the 1997 Economic Census data.
Items of Interest
Below the "Basic
Facts" section is the "Items of Interest" section. This section contains
links to data and information made available recently. This section changes
every couple of weeks with announcements of the availability of newly released
tables or data sets. As of early August, the Items of Interest section
includes the Summary File 1 — which includes tables on age, sex, households,
families, and housing for smaller areas. The information is released on
a state-by-state basis.
Another nifty tool
is Address Searching. Here you can search for 2000 maps and data using
street addresses. Results include county, city, tract, block, and voting
district numbers. Congressional District and Metropolitan Statistical Area
information is also made available. The information can also be mapped.
However, the address search feature's effectiveness depends on the availability
of data provided by local communities. In some instances you will not be
able to search street addresses. The search results include county and
city name, census tract, block, and voting district numbers for 2000.
in this section includes the Housing Unit Counts — housing units counts
for states, counties, places, and more. Demographic Profiles include age,
sex, race, and Hispanic/Latino counts, as well as information on housing,
households and families. This section also includes Rankings, Comparisons
and Summaries for the changes between the 1990 and 2000 Decennial Censuses.
It also provides the total population for the United States as of April
1, 2000 — 281,421,906.
"Data Sources" section identifies exactly which censuses and surveys are
available via American FactFinder with direct links to FactFinder pages
that allow users to create tables and maps not already developed. Currently,
the Data Sources section includes links to the 2000 and 1990 Decennial
Censuses, the 1997 Economic Census, and the American Community Survey from
On the left-hand
side, the navigation menu offers three important search options — Data
Sets, Reference Maps, and Thematic Maps.
The Data Sets
option offers easy access to comprehensive information from the Decennial
Censuses, the American Community Survey, and the Economic Censuses and
Surveys. This more advanced feature allows users to:
create Quick Tables,
Geographic Comparison Tables, and Detailed Tables for Population and Housing
view data sets, Industry
Quick Reports, and Geographic Quick Reports for Economic data.
create Thematic Maps
from Population and Housing data and Economic data.
These maps can
create a map showing the boundaries of a Census geographic area or areas,
such as a congressional district or census tract, as well as other features,
such as roads or waterways. Besides using Place Name searching to find
Reference Maps (as described above), you can also browse by using the Reference
Maps option from the menu on the left. You can use the zoom feature to
focus your search for specific information and once you have identified
the map you want, you can zoom, change geographies, change data sets, and
add or subtract physical features using the legend tool.
These maps create
maps that geographically depict statistical data, such as population, median
income, or industry data. As we have seen, you can use keyword searching
to create thematic maps, but it is easier to browse the complete list of
thematic maps using the Thematic Maps feature. The default theme is population
per square mile and the Census 2000 Redistricting Data (Public Law 94-171)
Summary File. By selecting a state you can change the map to show counties,
metropolitan areas, and congressional districts (106th). Once you have
selected a map, you can change the geographic display or use the zoom tool
to focus your map.
If you need help,
the Census Bureau provides several help tools. Help and Frequently Asked
Questions (FAQs) are always available, no matter where you are in FactFinder.
The easy-to-follow and clearly explained Help walks you through the retrieval
process. The Census Bureau has also made available a tutorial, glossary,
and pop-up windows that explain what you are looking at. Another first-rate
tutorial has been designed and developed by Grace York, coordinator for
the Government Documents Division at the University of Michigan [http://www.lib.umich.edu/govdocs/amfact/slide1.htm].
She has put together a fabulous tutorial that walks you through the entire
site, one that includes a series of exercises on each of the areas covered.
This is a great way to learn about the many features offered by American
All in all, American
FactFinder is a very impressive tool that makes locating the wealth of
census material easy. The tool should facilitate the distribution of the
vast array of census material; it looks flexible enough to include additional
data sets when they become available. The creators of American FactFinder
intended to make census material more easily available and accessible.
I believe they have succeeded. The DADS team should be applauded for a
first-rate piece of work. They have thought through the entire process
and made it easy to learn, easy to find, and easy to incorporate this huge
body of data into useful and meaningful segments. Great job.
and American FactFinder are laudable and impressive efforts to bring citizens
together with their government using the Web and are positive examples
of our taxpayers' dollars at work!
for the Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies, December 17, 1999
of Dr. Eric Brewer, "FirstGov.gov: Is It a Good Idea?," Subcommittee on
Government, Management, Information and Technology, October 2, 2000 [http://www.house.gov/reform/gmit/hearings/2000hearings/001002.FirstGov/001002eb.htm].
Bhambam, "Who's Owner of FirstGov Database? Not Uncle Sam," Government
Computer News, vol. 20, no. 24, August 20, 2001 [http://www.gcn.com/20_24/news/16885-1.html].