Officially launched on 26 July 2010, FederalRegister.gov is a collaboration between the Office of the Federal Register and the Government Printing Office. This prototype takes the XML feed of the Federal Register hosted by FDsys and delivers it in a friendly format for public consumption and review. The site is seeking feedback, and for now is not considered a legally official presentation of the Federal Register.
FR 2.0 divides the content into six major topics: Money, World, Business & Industry, Environment, Science & Technology, and Health & Public Welfare. Each entry is linked with a descriptive title, such as "National Oil and Hazardous Substances Pollution Contingency Plan". These entries can also be browsed by date, by agency, by topic, and by entry type (notice, proposed rule, rule). RSS feeds are available, and many entries are illustrated with photos from Flickr.
The faceted search works quite well. Searches can be narrowed by topic, agency, date, and even zip code. I was able to use the Events search to find a recent public informational meeting to plan research concerning the effect of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water in Canonsburg, PA, which is about 125 miles from where I am in Akron, OH.
Within each entry, every paragraph has a marker that provides a direct link and the FR citation, along with tools to share on Twitter, Facebook, and digg. The Table of Contents makes it easy to navigate through the entry, and he font size and style (serif or sans-serif) are easy to change. All of the links and email addresses are active, and both the official PDF and the XML itself can be accessed with a single click. For items open to comment, a single click takes the user to Regulations.gov.
Some minor technical faults are present. It's easy to accidentally bring up the marker box, and difficult to dismiss it. There is a notice on the visual navigation page that there are 33 comment periods ending soon, but I had to navigate into the major topics or use the faceted search to discover these. A few times, I noticed the font preload in one size, then display in another. Finally, the summaries are still not given in plain English. It's nice to be able to quickly get to citations, but the terminology is still quite technical. The summary posted on the headline page removes some of the technical language, but can't be accessed from the entry page.
Overall, I think FR 2.0 demonstrates careful planning and consideration of the needs of the expanding audience for the FR. I'd like to see more granularity in the major topic groupings, but sometimes the more simple approach is the best way to please everyone.
If you see any problems, be sure to share them on the Site Feedback link. Also, please post here with your thoughts and reactions to this new tool.
According to the Alliance for Taxpayer Access, a public hearing is scheduled for next Thursday, 29 July 2010, on the topic of access to publicly-funded research. The hearing will be held by the House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Information Policy, Census, and National Archives to understand the challenges, impact, and opportunities for increased access.
More details are available on the press release:
We're getting closer to the release date for Federal Register 2.0, the Office of the Federal Register's joint project with GPO to take the XML version of the FR and make it into a "newspaper" of regulatory activity.
- National Archives Unveils New Federal Register 2.0 Web Site to Mark 75th Anniversary. Press release (12 July 2010).
According to this press release, the beta version will be released to the public on 26 July 2010, a date chosen to coincide with the 75th anniversary of the Federal Register Act. My hope is that this project will set the bar for future uses of XML made available in FDsys, and I'm looking forward to reviewing this initial version at the end of the month.
For those of us who spend our lunchtimes wandering around the internet, TED Talks are an excellent and often-inspiring diversion. In a February 2010 talk, David Cameron discussed the relationship between politics and behavioral economics, arguing that the technology-driven empowerment of citizens ultimately increases their well-being.
Whether or not you agree with Cameron's political perspective, and whether or not you agree with his assessment of human nature, his description of the relationship between "people power," and transparency, choice, and accountability is an interesting one. He points to the Missouri Accountability Portal as an excellent example of public access to technology resulting in public empowerment.
Incidentally, Cameron promised a site that would track all government spending over £25,000, and all government contracts. Public spending data is now available in the Combined Online Information System (COINS) database. The UK government portal, direct.gov.uk, links to some guidance on using COINS, which indicates that the pledge about publicizing spending should be fulfilled by November 2010. It also indicates that user-friendly access options for some data subsets will be in place by August 2010.
You can watch the video here, or view the video with subtitles and an interactive transcript on the TED Talks site.
- David Cameron: The next age of government. Filmed February 2010.
Next week, I will be representing government information librarians at a career fair for graduate students in library science here in northeast Ohio. I've been spending a lot of time thinking about the message I want to bring to my booth. Many of the reasons I decided to become a librarian are related directly to government information. While I can't expect that everyone is as instinctively thrilled about USDA research products, Congressional hearings, and old War Department railroad surveys as I am, it seems likely that most government information issues have some inherent appeal to librarians, even those who may not yet have been bitten by the government information bug.
My incomplete list of librarians and related specialists who have some investment in government information includes: librarians at institutions that perform policy, political science, or historical research; public services librarians who help users find information about government services, activities, and priorities; librarians at institutions specializing in the health sciences (or any other discipline for which the government funds research); archivists and digital collections librarians; records managers; book conservators; publishers who reprint works in the public domain; programmers and database administrators who might want to work for the government; and school media specialists looking for resources to support civics education.
Beyond this, I would include librarians who are bloggers, librarians who are politics junkies, and every librarian who is, on principle, an advocate of openness and transparency, or who would benefit as a voter or citizen or member of a community from more open information from the government - and that, as we know, is everyone.
So I will highlight resources that might hook different members of this eclectic community of future librarians. Of course, as an FDLP librarian, I want to make information available about the program and what it's like to work with documents, as well as the breadth and depth of information available from all flavors of government. But I will also highlight government information accessibility and preservation initiatives, public interest issues (such as access to taxpayer-supported research and the link between public libraries and e-government services), and projects and issues that tie into emerging technologies and other hot topics in librarianship. The more librarians are invested in government information issues, the more they will join our conversations with government entities - and the more they will support our work at our libraries and institutions.
If you have tips and tricks for hooking new librarians, or a great success story, please share in the comments!
Two very different articles that evoke Presidents' Day have come to my attention recently. "The Founders' Great Mistake" (via Mark Drapeau) is an interesting look at the formation of the American presidency and the shadow of George Washington.
Even when Washington remained silent, his presence shaped the debate. When, on June 1, James Wilson suggested that the executive power be lodged in a single person, no one spoke up in response. The silence went on until Benjamin Franklin finally suggested a debate; the debate itself proceeded awkwardly for a little while, and was then put off for another day.
Many of the conversations about presidential authority were similarly awkward, and tended to be indirect. Later interpreters have found the original debates on the presidency, in the words of former Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson, "almost as enigmatic as the dreams Joseph was called upon to interpret for Pharaoh."
The article then continues to track the development of the powerful executive position, and argues for reform of both the electoral process and the interregnum period - the eleven or so weeks the outgoing president spends as a lame duck.
The second is a post from the official Google blog, "From the height of this place." This post describes the company's technology optimism, and sketches a picture of the future world of computing and communication.
Putting the power to publish and consume content into the hands of more people in more places enables everyone to start conversations with facts. With facts, negotiations can become less about who yells louder, but about who has the stronger data. They can also be an equalizer that enables better decisions and more civil discourse. Or, as Thomas Jefferson put it at the start of his first term, "Error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it."
Information transparency helps people decide who is right and who is wrong and to determine who is telling the truth. When then-Senator Clinton incorrectly stated during the 2008 Presidential campaign that she had come under sniper fire during her 1996 trip to Bosnia, the Internet set her straight. This is why President Obama's promise to "do our business in the light of day" is important, because transparency empowers the populace and demands accountability as its immediate offspring.
Of course, this picture of the future of the information world is heavily Google-centric. The post makes the point, though, that the future of radical technological development is primarily in the commercial realm. Rather than driving innovation, the government is another user, one that adopts technology piecemeal.
What do these two articles have in common?
Drawing from a recent FGI discussion, I think it's relevant that neither of these parties works de facto "for the people." Whether or not it was true in the past, the president does not serve at the whim of all Americans who are eligible to vote. Rather, the president walks a fine line between serving the interests of the executive branch, and serving the interests of Congress, in order to maintain a level of cooperation that will allow the interests of the executive branch to themselves be furthered. One hopes that the best interests of the executive branch are in fact aligned with the best interests of the people, particularly given that presidents and their parties are eligible for re-election. Still, there is an interesting parallel between the president/executive branch and a socially aware company like Google: doing the right thing probably comes with some strings attached, whether those strings are profit, goodwill, or a reduction in future opportunity costs.
These strings themselves are the leverage government information advocates have with both public and private entities. With enough loud voices, goodwill can be harder to earn. The library community has been burned by Google (endless summer? really?) in the recent past. And we hardly need a reminder of failures in the recent past on the part of the executive branch to maintain our goodwill.
The carrot-and-stick technique with government entities (best exemplified recently by the ongoing work of Carl Malamud) is slow but ultimately effective, as the continuing success of Public.Resource.Org shows. As we await the announcement of a GPO partner, I wonder what advocacy for government information would look like in a hypothetical future where technology and data is locked up by commercial entities, rather than open and free. For me, that hypothetical future suggests that we have many more allies out there than just the names and faces already at work on government information issues. Maybe there are ways and projects that would recruit more of these advocates to become voices on government information issues.
I realize that this has been a superficial and simplistic comparison between two complex entities, but I hope it inspires some thought on how similarities may inform current and future strategy.
One of my favorite low-tech ways to get users at my library interested in the vast arena of government information available online is to feature different electronic items on my office door. I've just put up a display with some highlights from American Memory's collections about Abraham Lincoln. My previous display was on teaching tools related to Saturn from the Cassini mission, and prior to that, I featured educational materials about the food pyramid from USDA.
I like these displays because they take almost no effort to assemble (I look for items that will print well and will hook the interest of a casual audience - teaching tools are great for this), and because they're in a location where nothing else competes for attention. These items are clearly "from the internet", and yet they are high-quality materials that could be of use to our library stakeholders, both in their academic and personal lives.
I don't expect to build a legion of government information enthusiasts, but what I hope to do is interest some of my many daily passers-by in a tiny slice of what's available, in the hopes that they will do some exploration on their own and perhaps someday become interested in exactly how much is available, and why it's available, and who works to keep it available. Is it working? I have no way of knowing directly, but the chance that it might is worth the time to locate the resources and the few sheets of paper to print it out. Besides, it makes my office door that much more interesting.
The Federal Chief Technology Officer (CTO) position to be created by the Obama administration has been on the radar of government information specialists for some time (check out Chella Vaidyanathan's recent comments on one of the high profile candidates, Vivek Kundra). Via Mark Drapeau's Twitter stream, take a look at a recent CRS report on the new position.
The report reviews the history of the CIO Council established by President Clinton in 1996, and discusses the similarly widespread nature of CTO responsibilities throughout federal agencies.
Among the early challenges a CTO may face are defining and communicating the roles of the position; identifying and recruiting talent, from both inside and outside of government; and negotiating domains of responsibilities, formal and informal, within the White House (if that is where the Obama Administration or Congress decides to establish a CTO) and with executive branch agencies that have overlapping missions. Beyond these initial challenges, a CTO would need to establish goals and milestones, set priorities, secure resources, and develop and execute a strategy. If the position or office of a CTO is not established by Congress and provided with statutory authorities and a dedicated budget, it may be difficult for a CTO to affect change in individual federal agencies or systemically throughout the federal government. In such a case, the efficacy of a CTO may depend largely on the mandate provided by President Obama to a CTO (and agencies’ perception of the mandate), the imprimatur of the White House, and the personal attributes of a CTO (e.g., relationship with the President, past accomplishments, knowledge, professional reputation, persuasiveness).
Perhaps one of the most difficult and enduring challenges a CTO may face would be “turf wars” associated with overlapping responsibilities with other executive agencies and their principals on issues such as technology and innovation policy, computer and network security, and intellectual property enforcement...
When the plan for the CTO position is finalized, it may benefit the government information community to develop a message and a means to share it with the CTO in a way that is tailored to the powers and capabilities of the position. Our concerns about transparency certainly complement the stated concerns of the new administration, and while the new CTO may be hearing messages from throughout the government, our message deserves to be heard.
As a librarian working in reference services, I am always looking for resources that can capture the interest of everyone who use my library and its website. After all, what better way to build grassroots support for the availability and preservation of government information?
The Library of Congress is exploring The Quest for Black Citizenship in the Americas as its theme this year in its galleries and presentations. The website includes webcasts, photographs, and learning tools on African American history and the Civil Rights movement. One featured item is the National Park Service's Tuskegee Airmen exhibit, which may be of particular interest to those who watched the inauguration of Barack Obama.
Another resource to highlight is the Black History Month section of America.gov. This website includes articles and photo galleries on contemporary topics and defining moments in American history. There's an RSS feed for articles so you can stay updated throughout the month.
Through Federal Resources for Educational Excellence (FREE is a great discovery tool for digital collections) I was reminded of the Frederick Douglass Papers at the Library of Congress. This enormous collection, part of the American Memory project, includes a diary Douglass kept on a tour to Europe and Africa, and correspondence with prominent abolitionists and political figures.
One other fascinating resource for Black History Month is, unsurprisingly, the Federal Bureau of Investigation FOIA Reading Room. While only about one percent of the entire FBI file for Martin Luther King, Jr. is available for viewing here, the file includes some information on surveillance practices and informants. Other files available in the reading room are on Paul Robeson and his wife Eslanda, and Jackie Robinson.
I'll be back throughout the month with more on topics and tools to build interest in government information resources.