RECORDS MANAGEMENT

GPO's FDsys now operational

Federal Digital System could usher in age of official digital government documents.

The Government Printing Office has flipped the "on" switch for its next-generation digital repository for publicly accessible government documents. The Federal Digital System (FDsys) now offers the public access documents from all three branches of government through a single portal.

With FDsys going live, the federal government has taken a big step toward becoming a digital government, at least as far as the ability to designate electronic documents as official records. Agencies and Congress can submit their official electronic papers to FDsys with digital certificates, allowing GPO to maintain a chain-of-custody that can be traced back to their originators. Long-term archiving issues have also been addressed with the new system.

“FDsys will not only provide transparency to our government, but forever change how we maintain and manage government information,” Public Printer Robert Tapella said in a statement.

FDsys will replace GPO's current digital document repository, GPOAccess. The full switchover should happen by the middle of this year. FDsys will house primarily three types of documents, said GPO Chief Information Officer Mike Wash in an interview with GCN.

It will keep all documents that agencies and Congress send to GPO to printing and distribution. It will also permanently archive noteworthy documents that agencies post on their own Web sites, as well as important historical documents.

More than 154,000 documents are currently available through the site, with more being added each day. FDsys now hosts congressional bills, documents and hearing testimonies, as well documents from the Federal Register and bills and laws enacted since the 104th Congress.

GPO has been working on FDsys for the last four-and-a-half years. In August 2006, GPO awarded Harris Corp. a four-year, $29 million contract to build out the initial capabilities of the system..

For users, FDsys will offer a greater nuance in search capability. For instance, visitors can search by congressional committee or member of Congress, refining the results by keyword and date. New features and services will also be added over the next few years.

One new service that has already been added is a new daily online publication covering the president's orders, statements and remarks, the Daily Compilation of Presidential Documents, contributed by the Office of the Federal Register, which uses material taken from the White House Press Office.

For GPO itself, FDsys represents a significant step in how the agency ingests and manages its vast collection of digital documents.

Particular attention was paid to document formats. The system uses Iso's Reference Model for Open Archival Information Systems framework, which establishes a procedure for moving documents to next-generation formats, should the ones then being used fall into disfavor. Each document will have an archival information package, offering instructions on preparing the material for a new format,

"As formats change and tools change in the future, the information is in a form that it can be repurposed for future needs," Wash said.

Another key attribute will be authentication. FDsys provides a way for agencies and Congress to submit documents using digital signatures. GPO will maintain a chain of custody for these documents, so that later users of the documents can be assured that the document hasn't been "altered or corrupted in any way," Wash said.

About the Author

Joab Jackson is the senior technology editor for Government Computer News.

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