Nov 95 Jurisdiction: Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, Calif., Seattle, Wash., U.S. Department of Defense, Federal Trade Commission, Olympia, Wash., U.S. Geologic Survey, Washington Dept. of Transportation, Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety, Census Bureau. Vendors: Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, Congressional Quarterly Books.

James Evans Contributing Writer

The federal government has always liked the Internet. That's no surprise given that the Department of Defense's Advanced Research Project Agency began developing the planet's largest computer network in 1969 to prevent the military's computer system from being destroyed in the first volley of a nuclear war. The Internet (originally named ARPAnet) finally came online in 1972, and its been expanding ever since. But the federal government likes the Internet now more than ever. State governments like it too. Government officials like it so much they're practically tripping over each other to have a presence on it. This stampede has occurred primarily in the past two years. Sure, there were an increasing number of agencies posting material at FTP and gopher sites, like the Census Bureau, the CIA, State Department, California Legislature and others, but it was nothing compared to the current onslaught. The difference? Enter the World Wide Web in 1990, created by a scientist at the European Laboratory for Particle Physics (CERN) so researchers around the globe could exchange documents regardless of which protocol (FTP, gopher, telnet) they were using. The Web, as it is known, employs hypertext transfer protocol, meaning that by clicking the mouse on specific words or phrases on the screen, you will be transferred to other screens with additional information. The Web permits displays not only of text, but also audio, graphics and video in bright colors. It transformed the Internet from an often-difficult and confusing search for information - using arcane keyboard commands - to an entertaining and rewarding journey through a wealth of material in what amounts to a global electronic library. And it brought the government - both federal, state and local - into its embrace. It's hard to find a federal office, state capital, or even a city that isn't represented on the Internet. Usually that presence is through a Web page. Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan recently issued an executive order that all departments get on the Web to allow residents online access to city information - to fill out forms, get regulations, report crime and complain until their computers can't take it anymore.

Useful or Wasteful? Government indeed likes the Internet. But the question is, is government providing anything useful, or is it there for the thrill of it? Are tax dollars being spent wisely? Does anyone really benefit from official Web pages and other sites, or are they merely monuments to bureaucratic egos? You don't have to stray far from the Internet for an answer. People familiar with the Internet overwhelmingly support the idea of governments offering their wares electronically. There's fluff, many concede, but shallowness generally is the exception rather than rule. Government may fall short in many areas, but in cyberspace it has delivered with a comprehensiveness and enthusiasm that wins applause across the country. "I think the government Web pages are fabulous," said Myra Wilson, a librarian at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom - a prominent Washington, D.C., law firm. "I'm thinking about the FTC [Federal Trade Commission] Web page (URL: http://www.ftc.gov) which can send you to speeches, press releases and decisions. Things are posted quickly and can be easily accessed and delivered. For me this is a great savings over sending a messenger to the Public Reference Room. For a law librarian in Montana, it's a godsend!" States too get their due. Jeff Sconyers, general counsel at Children's Hospital and Medical Center in Seattle, Wash., said government Internet sites have proven to be invaluable not only in his work, but in his family life too. "The