Feds expect XML to ease info exchanges

'We are nearing the point where it may make sense' to develop a governmentwide XML strategy.

'XML Working Group's Owen Ambur

PHILADELPHIA'Agencies are paving the road to information sharing with Extensible Markup Language tags, schemas and registries.

The CIA's Office of the Intelligence Community CIO, the Defense Information Systems Agency, the Justice Department and the CIO Council last week displayed their XML efforts at the Information Sharing for Homeland Security Conference.

XML will play a key role, said Timothy N. West, chairman of the Intelligence Community Metadata Working Group at the CIA. XML standards will be used to create an enterprise architecture that will build on the CIA's Intelligence Community System for Information Sharing, West said.

"Metadata is the key to sharing information," he said. "The intelligence community is well on its way to achieving this at the top-secret level."

Sharing data below the top-secret level will require agreements among dozens of agencies and military commands, West said.

With the assistance of metadata markup standards, intelligence system users can assure that information is precisely recalled, repeatably accessible, accurate and available for reuse many times, he said. Those factors increase the productivity of intelligence analysts and the data's users, he said. "The consumer can spend more time using the information and less time searching," West said.

In control

Using XML and metadata tags also will promote what the CIA calls rights management, tools that let the creators of information control how users copy or distribute data.

"Metadata is more than just tagging data with descriptive identifiers," West said. "There has to be a registry of the tags."

What's needed is a communitywide policy mandating the use of metadata tags, West said.

"The homeland security metadata imperatives cannot be successful without common data tagging standards," he said.

Owen Ambur, co-chairman of the CIO Council's XML Working Group and a systems analyst at the Fish and Wildlife Service, said his group is identifying best practices for XML use, developing partnerships inside and outside the government, and conducting outreach on XML issues.

Noting that the General Accounting Office has recommended a governmentwide strategy for XML, Ambur said, "We are nearing the point where it may make sense to do that."

The council working group is sponsoring a pilot XML registry and repository as well as a project to harmonize standards. It is also building an XML developer's guide.

Alesia Jones-Harewood, project manager for the Defense Information Systems Agency, described the Pentagon's well-established XML registry, which DISA operates. "Data about data is going to allow officials to understand how to share data," she said.

She cautioned that in the metadata field, "the approach of 'build a standard and they will come' does not work. Implementation will vary across systems and even within communities."

DISA operates a data emporium that includes an XML registry and repository as well as procedures for establishing communities of interest. DISA maintains more than 16,000 data elements and 139 XML schema.

"DOD brings a mature XML registry process to the homeland security" table, she said.

At the Justice Department, the Justice Assistance Bureau is working to coordinate four XML projects via the Justice Information Technology Sharing Initiative, said Pat McCreary, program manager for the effort.

So far, the Justice team has created an XML data dictionary schema and is about to release the third version of a system weaving together the four XML projects'which cover court, rap sheet, motor vehicle and regional criminal justice data.

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