Ask Uncle Sam; Tapping into Government Web Sites

Article excerpt

The federal government is like your old Aunt Minnie. It can't throw out anything that might be useful someday. And given the government's penchant for paperwork, the result is stockpiles of information, some of which is valuable, some of which is not, but most of it is available within a few mouse clicks of those equipped with a Web browser.

Uncertain where to go? Start with one of the general sites that list government areas and provide electronic links. These include the National Technology Transfer Center's home page, which provides an index to more than 900 government sites (or visit its product information files that describe more than 200 information products available, from Food and Drug Administration reports to Department of Defense procurement information), or check out FedWorld Information Network, which provides Internet links but will also put you in touch with 130 government bulletin boards, most of which aren't located on the Internet and must be accessed separately.

Most government agencies pertaining to business have sites. These can be found by visiting any of the general sites mentioned above or using an Internet search engine such as Yahoo, Excite or AltaVista. Here are some of the more useful ones.

The Department of Commerce. Besides giving briefings on the latest happenings at Commerce--releases on speeches given by Secretary Mickey Kantor, scheduling of conferences, business statistics--this home page features links to individual agencies such as the Bureau of Export Administration or the Office of Air and Space Commercialization.

Small Business Administration. In addition to listing SBA resources in your area and outlining the overall charter of the SBA, the Web site includes Angel Capital Electronic Network (ACE-Net), a new financing bulletin board. The site also gives helpful hints on starting a business, how to expand an existing one.

The International Trade Administration. This offshoot of the Commerce Department lists all export-assistance centers for American companies that need advice on how to sell overseas; trade statistics (figures on employment, wages, capital expenditures, imports and exports for any country trading with the United States); as well as an 800 number for the Trade Information Center.

Export-Import (ExIm) Bank of the United States. The home page outlines programs to finance your export operation, describes ExIm publications, provides free information on countries and what financing the bank provides. For example, all ExIm programs are available to finance the sale of U.S. goods and services to South Africa.

The Department of Labor. Last November, its home page included a description of "No Sweat," the DOL's program to eliminate sweatshops, an outline of the changes in the minimum-wage law and how they affect businesses, profiles of good "corporate citizens" and how your company can become one, and so on. The Department of Labor also gives electronic visitors access to GILS, the government information locator service, which identifies public information resources within the federal government. (GILS can also be tapped from the Commerce Department's National Technical Information Services [NTIS] or the FedWorld Information Network.)

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration. It describes OSHA standards, programs and services, in addition to offering compliance assistance and workplace statistics. The OSHA home page also has a Census Bureau data section, which is a repository for U.S. Country Business Patterns information, in addition to Bureau of Labor Statistics-OSHA statistics.

The General Services Administration. This is the federal government's procurement arm. Visit its site to find out how to do business with Uncle Sam. …