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Eye Opener: The Federal Register Relaunches

By Ed O'Keefe



The Federal Register is available in print, left, but thanks to new XML capabilities, it's now also available in easier-to-digest format like word clouds, right (Images courtesy of the White House)

Eye Opener

Happy Monday! It's an important day for lawyers, lobbyists, librarians, good government groups, Gov 2.0 junkies and citizens concerned about the business of the executive branch, because the White House, National Archives and Government Printing Office relaunch the online version of the Federal Register today in XML format at Data.gov.

The "defacto newspaper of the executive branch" (as The Eye describes in the pages of Monday's Post) is now available in a format that "allows users to transport data from a Web site and store it, manipulate it or customize it elsewhere. Officials suggested that the move puts readers, rather than the government, in charge of deciding how to access the Register's reams of information."

Though the Register may be the ultimate record of the business of the executive branch, it is universally recognized as a difficult document to navigate.

But now, "You're going to start seeing the Federal Register looking way better," said Carl Malamud, president of Public.Resource.Org, a group devoted to ensuring the online publication of public records. A leading Gov 2.0 advocate and longtime critic of how the government publishes and distributes its important government documents, Malamud spent the last few months working with GPO to test Monday's release.

"I've been very impressed. This really is a sea change, and very much for the better," he said in an e-mail.

Want proof? Malamud recommended GovPulse.us, a winner of the recent Apps for America competition. The site tracks agency activity in the Register with graphics, mapping and word clouds -- a much easier way to digest the Register's reams of information, until now only viewed online in lengthy pdf documents. GovPulse was built by three developers in their spare time who've had to screenscrape FederalRegister.gov to get all the data. The new XML format will make their jobs easier and the site "will really start to sing," Malamud said.

His group also built a test site: http://webchick.org/FRtoXML/ Notice the table of contents, color-coded regulations, cross-linking and links to maps of specific addresses? Before the XML capabilities, users could never have perused the Register in such fashion.

It cost the government approximately $100,000 to convert Register issues dating to 2000, according to Ray Mosley, director of the Federal Register, which is part of the National Archives and Records Administration. The Register went online in 1994, and converting issues from '94 to 2000 will cost at least another $150,000, Mosley said.

That's a small price to pay for much easier access to government information.

Read The Eye's exclusive report in Monday's Post then leave your thoughts in the comments section below.


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Important: Watch an interview with Twitter founder Jack Dorsey.

Damaged Money, Priceless Stories: A recent stash of Mexican moola sheds light on what is normally a little-noticed program at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing in downtown Washington. Each year, the bureau handles about 30,000 transactions involving mutilated currency worth $30 million.

Who Knew Foreign Affairs Required So Much Math?: Ever heard of the G-6 Plus 1, Plus 1 Plus 12?

USAID Auditing Security Contractors in Afghanistan: According to Politico sources in Kabul.

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Vaccine Is On Its Way, But Public Still Wary: As the federal government launches the most ambitious inoculation campaign in U.S. history, several surveys indicate the public is decidedly ambivalent.

Survey: Feds Beat Private Sector on Vision, Lag on Management: It finds that the federal government earns higher marks than the private sector on questions relating to what McKinsey & Co. calls the "heart of an organization." Federal managers say they understand and embrace the direction and vision set by senior leaders and are motivated to perform their work.

Senate Bill Would Protect Contractor Whistleblowers: Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) sponsored the legislation that would also apply to employees of state and local governments, nonprofits, and other companies receiving grants or other federal reimbursements such as Medicare.

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By Ed O'Keefe  | October 5, 2009; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  Eye Opener  
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