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On Site: Statistical Yardsticks Taking the Nation's Measure

By Stephen Barr
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 23, 1997; Page A27

The Clinton administration yesterday officially launched FedStats, an Internet service that links computer users to statistics from more than 70 federal Web sites.

"Today, a high school student in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, has better access to federal statistics than a top government official five years ago," said Sally Katzen, administrator of the Office of Management and Budget's office of information and regulatory affairs.

The new World Wide Web page -- found at www.fedstats.gov -- includes a search engine that allows users to type in words or phrases to find documents or files. It also provides an "A to Z" listing of topics. Users also may look at a list of the federal agencies and 14 broad program areas to find data.

The Web site, for example, includes the Census Bureau population clock, which estimated the U.S. resident population at 267,307,886 at 11 p.m. yesterday. Census population projections show one birth every eight seconds and one death every 14 seconds.

Many of the sites provide other basic research data. The 1995 "mini-digest" created by the National Center for Education Statistics, for instance, provides statistical snapshots showing Americans are becoming more educated. Between 1980 and 1994, the proportion of adults with at least four years of college increased from 17 to 22 percent, according to the digest.

The Web page also provides a "Fast Facts" link that allows users to visit "Federal Statistics Briefing Rooms," which were created last year, or an online version of the most frequently requested tables from the popular reference book, the Statistical Abstract of the United States.

Like many Web sites, FedStats may also hinder users without powerful computers or those who want to reuse the data, which is not easily accomplished with the "desktop publishing" format many of the documents come in.

Although officials said agencies planned to expand the information available for quick "key word" searches and would regularly update the information, users take a risk depending on Web site data alone, which may not be updated instantaneously when new statistics are released.

Katzen stressed that FedStats should not raise concerns about confidentiality of personal information. No data on individuals or names or addresses will be available through the Web site.

Staff researcher Barbara J. Saffir contributed to this report.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company



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