Feds set plan to make data easier to find

What the government needs to do

The Categorization of Government Information Working Group has homed in on three recommendations to speed and ease the finding of federal data:

  • Agencies should adopt a common set of search standards.

  • Agencies should specify this standard when they buy search tools.

  • Vendors should offer standard gateway software.
  • Agencies have long set their own practices for presenting information to the public, but now the Office of Management and Budget wants everyone to get on the same page.

    The OMB-led Interagency Committee on Government Information is developing guidelines on how to organize, classify and present data to the public, either on the Web or through other electronic libraries.

    Once agencies agree on a single set of practices, citizens will be able to use new technologies more easily to find what they are looking for, said Eliot Christian, data and information systems manager for the Geological Survey and chairman of the committee's Categorization of Government Information Working Group.

    The group sees this task carried out in two steps. First, agencies must adopt common search engine standards. Then, agencies would need to apply a unified tagging system to identify government information by unique URL addresses.

    The E-Government Act of 2002 mandated that OMB draft a policy to help agencies do a better job of managing government information, from consolidating Web sites to improving records management.

    With that mandate in mind, OMB created the Interagency Committee on Government Information to implement Section 207 of the E-Government Act, which calls for standards to electronically categorize, publish and archive government information in a consistent format.

    The Categorization of Government Information Working Group is one of three committee groups developing guidelines related to E-Gov Act requirements.

    The committee's Electronic Records Policy Working Group and the Web Content Management Working Group also are creating data management recommendations.

    The categorization group opted to break its task into front- and back-end portions. On the front end, the group is calling for a set of standards agencies should use in implementing electronic searches. The goal is to let users do a single search across different systems, including library catalogs and disparate databases.

    On the back end, the group wants to bring uniformity to how the government indexes information. Led by James Erwin of the Defense Department's Defense Technical Information Center, this team is creating a set of proposed guidelines for tagging all government information with unique identifiers.

    Much like each Web page has a unique address or each book has an International Standard Book Number, so too should each piece of government information have its own globally unique identifier, said Erwin, who spoke recently at a conference held by the Federal Library and Information Center Committee.

    Christian added: 'At some level, every piece of government information has to be citable, in the same way there is a format for footnotes. That is what we're trying to do.'

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