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U.S. Unveils Spanish Web Site

FirstGov en Espanol aims to improve access to federal agencies by offering translations.

October 17, 2003|Shweta Govindarajan | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — A federal agency on Thursday launched a Spanish-language version of FirstGov -- a government-run Web site that provides information about official programs and services -- as part of President Bush's plan to use the Internet to improve public access to government information.

FirstGov en Espanol (www.espanol.gov) is a centralized collection of major federal agencies' Web pages translated into Spanish, including the U.S. Postal Service, the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services and the Department of Education. It is designed to demystify the way government works and to encourage Spanish speakers to seek information about living and working in the United States, officials said at a news conference announcing the Web site.

FirstGov en Espanol "is an easy ... portal for those who wish to access federal and state information in Spanish," said Stephen A. Perry, administrator of the General Services Administration, which developed and manages the site. The Web site "came out of the president's mandate, and it's an obvious void that needs to be filled."

The Spanish-language site serves as a gateway to Web sites for 55 federal agencies and 37 states, including California. Each agency listed there decides which information to translate, based on demand, said Teresa Nasif, director of the GSA's federal citizen information center. Because the site takes users to pages written in Spanish, not all content available on the English-language FirstGov will be available there, she said.

So far, more than 100,000 translated government pages are accessible from the site -- including the entire Web site for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Nasif said. Most of the translation was done in-house by bilingual employees of the Small Business Administration, she said, and professional translators from the State Department acted as proofreaders.

FirstGov en Espanol "shows how easy it has become for [Spanish speakers] to make their way through the labyrinth of government information," Nasif said.

A goal of Bush's 2002 E-Government initiative was to make agencies function more efficiently through the use of technology. A demonstrated interest among the nation's more than 37 million Latinos to obtain government information in Spanish helped spark development of the new site, officials said.

"It's difficult for many immigrants to access government services

The site follows the same organizational structure as FirstGov by arranging information according to four main sections and lists of commonly accessed topics. For example, under a section for people who have just arrived in the United States, users can check their immigration status, find out how to get a driver's license and learn how to pay taxes. In other sections, users can access health and medical data, apply for a student loan and file for a U.S. patent.

The site's simple structure is meant to take users through an apparently seamless assortment of Web pages, when in fact each page falls under a specific agency, officials said. The structure also will assist users who may not fully understand the arrangement of federal agencies, they said.

"Americans no longer need to swim through the alphabet soup of federal bureaucracy," said U.S. Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona at the conference. "That's the heart" of FirstGov en Espanol.

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