OMB releases much-anticipated data model

'We hope when our DRM is mature enough, we will go from an unmanaged to managed data environment,' Interior's Suzanne Acar says.

Laurie Dewitt

Interior pilot proves value of uniform data standards

The Interior Department's Recreation One-Stop e-government project hit a wall: Federal and state government partners working on the project could not agree on what data to include and share for making reservations at state and national parks. The disagreement seemed bound to hamper development of Recreation One-Stop.

Then Suzanne Acar and her enterprise architecture team lent a hand.

Acar, Interior's data architect, broke down the data so that project participants could understand what information would be shared and where it belonged within each subfunction of the recreation line of business. Helping the states better understand the data convinced them that the project was headed in the right direction, Acar said.

Her work highlights the potential benefits of the Office of Management and Budget's new Data Reference Model, the fifth and final piece to the Federal Enterprise Architecture. OMB just released the DRM for governmentwide use.

The DRM has been in the works for more than 18 months and is widely considered the key to making use of the FEA viable. But it also has been the most difficult model to develop, and its arrival is months later than OMB expected. Karen Evans, OMB's administrator for IT and e-government, said at a hearing in June that the model would be out in July.

The DRM helps promote common identification, use and appropriate sharing of data across the government in three areas: categorization, exchange and structure.

'Agencies that define and categorize their data using a common approach can identify IT applications that meet user requirements prior to proposing new IT investments,' the DRM noted. 'Agencies that exchange their data in a common structure increase the likelihood that other agencies can re-use the IT investment as a shared service within their own architectures.'

Agency officials said they are eager to get their hands on the model.

'We believe the chosen path is a workable approach provided it focuses on the needs of information exchange, and not try to set data storage structures and formats,' said John Sullivan, chief architect for the Environmental Protection Agency. 'Volume 1 [of the DRM] is critical because there is so much interest in how data is classified and shared. I expect there will be a lot of discussion about the DRM language and its terminology.'

Interior's DRM, which the department first developed in October 2003, became the prototype for the governmentwide version.

'We provided a single view of the data that was redundant in these recreation systems,' Acar said. 'Through the DRM, we reached a consensus with a handful of state recreation representatives, and the DRM served as a place to gather the data requirements and communicate them.'

Acar said OMB's DRM Working Group approved Interior's work, which gave the department confidence that it was developing the model without going in a different direction from OMB's vision.

Acar said Interior's DRM maps directly to OMB's but at more specific levels.

'We decided data standardization, information exchange, implementation of the data and delivery of the data were the four pillars of our framework,' Acar said. 'We hope when our DRM is mature enough, we will go from an unmanaged to managed data environment.'

In many ways, that is what happened with Recreation One-Stop. The DRM played an important role in developing the Recreation Markup Language that runs behind the Recreation One-Stop portal.

'Interior's pilot was a good example and illustrated how to use the DRM,' said Karen Evans, OMB administrator for e-government and IT. 'It made the whole model click for me on how you are supposed to use it.'

Interior also applied the data model to other priority lines of business including law enforcement, Indian trust funds and finance. And the department used the DRM to create common de-scriptions of simple data, such as person or location, across lines of business.

'The Interior DRM provides a common vocabulary, common definitions and serves as the guide for consistent implementation of data in Interior systems and Extensible Markup Language work, which can translate into a savings of time and costs,' Acar said.

Experts said agencies could start using the DRM immediately by following Interior's model of classifying data along priority lines of business.

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