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U.S. ushers in e-government

The Internet-based project to provide the general public and federal agencies with government information in "three clicks or less" makes its official debut.

    The U.S. government's new e-government plan officially launched on Thursday, but it could face a $40 million budget shortfall that may slow down development.

    The e-government project, which has been ramping up for months, is designed to use the Internet and computer systems to deliver information to agency workers and the general public more efficiently. On Thursday, the E-Government Act of 2002 went into effect, creating an Office of Information within the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to focus on the plan.

    "We have to make government a lot less complicated," Mark Forman, the administrator for e-government and information technology for the OMB, said in a Web chat during the project's official unveiling Thursday. "You shouldn't need a lawyer or Ph.D. to understand the services your government provides."

    However, funding could prove a challenge to the plan. The Bush administration requested $45 million for the project this year, but Congress trimmed that number to $5 million. OMB spokesman Mike Toth said the gap would mean that development won't progress as quickly as organizers had hoped, although he wouldn't elaborate.

    Toth did say that much of the information that will be included in the e-government project already exists on other federal sites.

    The e-government project, which is already offering citizens services such as online tax filing, is working to centralize government information so that the general public and federal contractors and customers can find out what they need to know from one Web site in "three clicks or less."

    For example, at Regulations.gov, people can search on all regulations that may affect the environment without having to search the separate Web sites of other agencies that may deal with the issue, such as the Environmental Protection Agency or the Department of Agriculture.

    In addition, Govbenefits.gov lets people find which benefits they qualify for by checking a series of boxes on the site.