NIST's et.gov site opens up new frontiers

'The purpose of this site is to facilitate the formation of communities of practice around emerging technology and components. ' 'Interior's Owen Ambur

Like the trail of Reese's Pieces laid down to entice an extraterrestrial in a well-known science fiction movie, a new interagency project sponsored by the CIO Council is leading federal program managers to promising new technologies.

Managers at the IRS have already been tempted by tools highlighted on et.gov, a fledgling site intended to promote the use of emerging technologies.

Simon Frechette, group leader in the Manufacturing Systems Integration Division of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, said IRS officials have approached his team about three components highlighted on the et.gov site. All three tools assist federal users in framing Extensible Markup Language schemas.

Owen Ambur, co-chair of the CIO Council's XML Community of Practice and chief XML strategist for the Interior Department, said the council sponsored et.gov to improve the federal government's management of the emerging technology lifecycle.

'In layman's terms, government executives can't deal with all the vendors coming at them,' Ambur said.

Plans for the site call for the automation of an eight-step process:
  • Identification of emerging technologies, broadly defined and not endorsed

  • Subscription to technologies by government officials
  • Stewardship, in which the CIO Council's Emerging Technology Subcommittee takes responsibility for proposed components

  • Graduation, when proposed components shift to the oversight of the Components Subcommittee following approval by the ET Subcommittee

  • Budgeting, the stage at which components receive funds

  • Acquisition, the purchasing process

  • Maintenance of components throughout their lifecycle

  • Retirement and replacement of components at the end of their lifecycle.

So far, the council has identified funds to automate only the first stage of the process, Ambur said. Still, agencies such as the IRS are finding the site useful. 'They were interested in checking out the validation tool, the naming tool and the [quality of design tool],' Frechette said, referring to beta-version tools that NIST has developed. 'They are building schemas for doing data exchange among different applications at IRS.'

The tools NIST highlighted on et.gov are:
  • Content Validation and Testing Tool for writing rules about data to bolster specifications in XML schema definitions

  • Naming Assister for helping users check terms used in XML against a table of allowable terms

  • Quality of Design tool to assure that schemas comply with good design practices.

The site also has spurred the formation of a community of practice for XML developers who use core.gov'an interagency effort designed to identify components of the Federal Enterprise Architecture'for components that reach the graduation stage of the process, Ambur said.

Core.gov stands for Component Organization and Registration Environment, and it receives funds from the General Services Administration in support of the CIO Council.

'With these interagency projects, it's always a challenge to find funding,' Ambur said.

The Environmental Protection Agency has provided some funds for et.gov, and GSA is providing hardware and software already in place for the XML.gov site.

'Anybody can use et.gov to identify or promote a component, regardless of whether that component exists,' Ambur said. 'The purpose of this site is to facilitate the formation of communities of practice around emerging technology and components. The results will speak for themselves [in the formation of the communities].'

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