EDITOR'S DESK: Uncommon chance at a common language

Wyatt Kash

Each year federal, state and local governments spend billions of dollars in pursuit of an elusive goal: to share information simply and securely.

What's actually been built with all those billions is an open question. Many would argue the re- sult resembles nothing so much as a vast virtual underworld of Rube Goldberg technology. It's hard to argue with the progress, but few would call it simple or secure, and it's certainly not elegant.

That's one reason the recent decision by the Homeland Security and Justice departments to build on, and broaden, a Justice information-sharing scheme represents far more than just another joint-development project.

What Justice created'and DHS CIO Steve Cooper has wisely decided to adopt'is a framework and dictionary for defining commonly used data.

As IT developers know, it's often not technology that stands in the way of progress, it's getting people to agree on terms and definitions. That remains the Achilles' heel of Extensible Markup Language.

What distinguishes the Bureau of Justice Assistance's XML platform from other efforts is the involvement of state and local law enforcement agencies. The approach from the beginning was bottom up, not top down; collaborative, not centralized'or as Paul Wormelli, executive director of the Integrated Justice Information Systems Institute, put it, an 'ad hocracy,' not an autocracy.

Today, more than 200 federal, state and local organizations are using the Global Justice XML Data Model'with impressive results.

Justice and DHS have christened the model with a new name and a broader mission. As the National Information Exchange Model, it has the potential to become a starter XML dictionary for other agencies.

NIEM is an important start. And government agencies would do well to support the NIEM model'not least to avoid the costs and the time needed to re-create what has already been done at Justice. Even Rube Goldberg might be impressed.

About the Author

Wyatt Kash served as chief editor of GCN (October 2004 to August 2010) and also of Defense Systems (January 2009 to August 2010). He currently serves as Content Director and Editor at Large of 1105 Media.

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