Get ready for FDsys

FDsys marks next generation of managing official government documents in digital formats

The Government Printing Office will begin system testing next month of a new digital content management system that is the next step in the agency's transition from a print-on-paper operation to an online resource for official electronic data.

The first release of the Federal Digital System (FDsys) is expected to be rolled out in January 2009 on the GPO Web site, and will eventually replace GPO Access as the means of accessing digital documents.

'We are now working on integration' of FDsys, said public printer Robert Tapella. Because of the volume of data involved, Tapella said it will take as long as six months from FDsys' release date before all content is available on the new system. He added that the agency plans to operate FDsys and GPO Access in parallel for some time.

Tapella received a demonstration of FDsys' capability on Oct. 17, and briefed librarians on it Monday at the fall conference of the Federal Depository Library Program being held in Arlington, Va. FDsys will be demonstrated for librarians today.

'I was blown away by how easy the research is,' Tapella said. 'You can refine searches in a way you can't do it now. It's not just searching, but finding what I'm looking for.'

For power users of the system'the librarians around the country who maintain federal depositories of official documents'one of the most useful tools in FDsys will be the electronic bibliographical data for cataloging. FDsys will replace the Integrated Library System, the current electronic bibliographical database, as the medium for accessing this key information.

As more data is created, disseminated and accessed in digital formats, GPO is evolving from a printer to a trusted repository for digital documents.

Ink-on-paper is not dead, and GPO still uses 35 million pounds of paper a year in its plants in Washington, Tapella said. Together with contract printers around the country, some 600 million pounds of paper are used each year. But 97 percent of the documents now coming into the Federal Depository Library Program are created digitally. 'More than half of the documents going into the program never see ink-on-paper at government expense,' Tapella said.

GPO Access originally was a byproduct of the printing process. FDsys is the next generation, designed to provide authentication and management of electronic documents from their creation through long-term archiving in a trusted environment.

GPO took a step in this direction in February with the release through GPO Access of digitally signed PDF versions of the fiscal 2008 federal budget, the first time the official version of this document was published electronically. In March a beta version of the Authenticated Public and Private Laws of the 110th Congress database was incorporated into GPO Access, and GPO will begin digitally signing all bills published electronically in the next session of Congress, Tapella said.

FDsys uses the Reference Model for Open Archival Information Systems for long-term preservation of electronic data, which will create data packages of content tied to metadata that will help systems render the documents in the appropriate format. An archival information package is created for each document, which is preserved in a secure environment. This is used to create an access content package, from which a query-specific dissemination information package is generated for delivery to the end user.

The first phase of FDsys is focused on storage and access of data. The second phase will incorporate submission of electronic data directly to the system from Congress. The third phase will incorporate submission by executive branch agencies. Because the 'power submitters' who frequently provide documents to GPO already are working in digital formats, this shift should be seamless, Tapella said.

Eventually FDsys will provide a continuous chain of custody that will begin with documents that are digitally signed by the creators and continue through the archival process.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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