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GPO Launches 'Google' for Federal Docs

By Ed O'Keefe

The Government Printing Office today launches Federal Digital System (FDsys), the new online home for original federal documents.

Users will eventually be able to search for information from the government's 50 different collections. The site currently hosts the eight most-popular collections, including the Federal Register, the Congressional Record and archive of Congressional hearings. The other collections will be added to the site by this summer, according to GPO's chief information officer Mike Wash.

The new site also marks the launch of the Federal Register's new Daily Compilation of Presidential Documents, an archive of executive orders, speeches and other information released by the White House Press Office. The daily online compilation replaces the printed Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents.

"In today’s world, where things are widely expected to be available immediately and online, we need to have a really good repository of information to maintain federal publications to get easy access to that information," Wash said.

Web users could just as easily use Google or other search engines to find government information, but FDsys assures access to the original, authentic versions of government documents.

Work on the site began in 2004 and GPO has spent roughly $20 million so far on the project.

"What we use is a lot of standard software. We haven’t been doing much custom software," Wash said. "A lot of our research was focused on doing search and content management. Lots of our time was spent on configuring standard tools to meet our needs."

Wash's team consulted congressional staffers, librarians and the federal agencies as the development process began. More recently, GPO has consulted with members of the tech-savvy Obama transition and administration.

"I think we'll be talking with them more, because what we’ve been doing here is a good example of good open government," Wash said.

Make sure to check out the Web site then leave your thoughts about it in the comments section below.

By Ed O'Keefe  | February 4, 2009; 10:10 AM ET
Categories:  Agencies and Departments, Nuts and Bolts  
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Why would you call this "Google" for documents, unless you are simply try to get web hits by using the google name. I went to the site and it is not immediately clear where in tarnation to find anything. I'm 38, computer literate and immediately find the site unappealing, and definitely not user friendly. The genius of google is it's simplicity. The GPO site is just like the GPO building itself Old, archaic, and difficult to navigate. I suppose if I was in the business of publishing paper copies, I wouldn't want people finding things easily online either.

Posted by: leewifflestin | February 4, 2009 12:06 PM | Report abuse

$20 million, five years, and it's still not as good as Google - classic government work.

Why didn't they just give the docs to Google and let them do it?

Posted by: fonkyou | February 4, 2009 12:15 PM | Report abuse

Looks like it only goes back to 1994.

Posted by: jread1 | February 4, 2009 12:23 PM | Report abuse

It's likely that the data only goes back as far as is available in
electronic form. So the reason it cuts off at 1994 or whenever is
probably because everything prior to that is on paper. (Our government
was not exactly an early adopter of computer technology. Nor was it
exactly leading-edge when and where it did, as the folks who just went
to work in the White House have noticed.)

I found the search engine very easy to use and very powerful -- apparently
it's metadata-aware, so it can do much more sophisticated searches than
Google allows. It also looks like they built in a nice drilldown feature
that lets you find what you're looking for when you don't know what
you're looking for. It'd be cool if there were more inter-document links,
but my guess is that none of the original material has these, so they'd
have to insert them programatically....and that's not easy to get right.

Posted by: JJCarpenter1 | February 4, 2009 1:09 PM | Report abuse

It's a good start at providing information to interested citizens.

The information overload will be intense.

Posted by: im1dc | February 4, 2009 2:20 PM | Report abuse

Sorry, my mistake: I was trying to include a sample search. If you go into their "advanced search", you can use the pulldowns to come up with a search like "find everything in the congressional record that mentions Iraq and funding and that Dick Durbin voted yes on". The query string that the site builds for you ends up looking like this:

collection:CREC and memberyes:Durbin and content:iraq and content:funding

(CREC must be congressional record.) I didn't type any of that -- the site came up with it. But I tried just pasting it into the search window and it worked. This is why I think they must be using metadata -- and you can't do a search like this with Google because it doesn't have features like that.

Posted by: JJCarpenter1 | February 4, 2009 3:00 PM | Report abuse

In reply to "fonkyou" who asked why they didn't let Google do it...because Google would mess it up even worse. Look at Google Books and how they block full access to public domain government documents!
It's a start...they are in Beta and will improve so keep offering them constructive criticism. They want to hear from you!
And visit your local Government Documents Depository Librarian for help too. ;-)

Posted by: reblakeley | February 5, 2009 12:59 AM | Report abuse

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