XML group challenges GAO report

XML group challenges GAO report

'It's easy to create a naming convention but difficult to choose the best one.'

The General Accounting Office this month said the lack of uniform, government-specific data structures could dim the Extensible Markup Language's promise of easily searchable, reusable content.

GAO recommended the director of the Office of Management and Budget oversee federal planning for XML adoption.

The document tagging language is technically mature, GAO said in its report, Electronic Government: Challenges to Effective Adoption of XML, but business standards for vocabulary and data interchange are far less advanced.

The HR-XML Consortium Inc. of Raleigh, N.C., attacked the report after its April 5 release, claiming that GAO did not consider the group's achievements. GAO warned that vendors are developing proprietary XML extensions that could eventually stop interoperability. It cited four other challenges:

  • There is no explicit governmentwide strategy for XML adoption, which could make it impossible for agencies' XML systems to talk to each other in the future.

  • No consolidated set of government XML requirements is ready to present to standards-setting bodies.

  • The government does not yet have a permanent repository of XML data structures.

  • XML implementation should follow evolving federal enterprise architectures.

    Marion Royal of the General Services Administration's Office of Governmentwide Policy said a repository of XML data structures is still in the pilot stage. Royal is co-chairman of the interagency XML Working Group, which was chartered by the CIO Council to promote use of the markup language.

    Lisa J. Carnahan, a staff member at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, leads the XML repository development effort.

    Agencies shouldn't go to the trouble of making XML tags for their own sake, Royal said, but rather should use existing tags if possible.

    'It's easy to create a naming convention but difficult to choose the best one,' Royal said.

    In January, the XML Working Group distributed a draft list of federal-specific XML best practices. The draft, however, does not include a governmentwide vocabulary.

    The accounting office reviewed XML development standards and related agency challenges at the request of Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.), chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee.

    The committee last month sent Lieberman's E-Government Act of 2001, S 803, to the full Senate for consideration [GCN, April 1, Page 7]. The bill would establish an Office of Electronic Government at OMB to promote interagency collaboration on systems and standards.

    Owen Ambur, a Fish and Wildlife Service systems analyst who is co-chairman of the XML Working Group with Royal, said he found nothing to disagree with in the GAO report.

    Ambur said private-sector data elements, document type definitions and business process schemas are either undefined or redundantly and inconsistently defined. The working group wants to minimize that confusion within government, he said.

    The proposed XML repository will register data tags for inherently governmental XML projects. 'That's far and away the greatest value that the working group adds,' Ambur said. Whether agencies need specific XML guidance through legislation is questionable, he said, but certainly they need funding and guidelines.

    If Congress continues to fund stovepipe systems instead of interoperable ones, 'then they have no one to blame but themselves for the results,' Ambur said.

    Meanwhile, Chuck Allen, director of the HR-XML Consortium, blasted GAO for giving short shrift to the consortium's efforts to develop XML data-interchange specifications for human resources systems. The Defense Finance and Accounting Service is the only federal member of the consortium, Allen said. He called on GAO to 'publish a fair and full accounting of HR-XML's work.'
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