Consulting firm tackles federal XML registry

Extensible markup language consulting firm Starbourne Communications Design is tackling a job that agency XML advocates have long lobbied for, but have never gotten the funding to execute: building a central registry of federal XML schemas.

At its own expense, the Berkeley, Calif.-based company will collect schemas from both the FirstGov Web site and the Global Justice XML Data Model and Data Dictionary and then make them available through a portal, according to Rex Brooks, founder and president of Starbourne. Eventually, the collected schemas could be used as the basis for developing a federal dictionary of descriptive XML terms.

Brooks spoke, by telephone, at the monthly meeting of the Federal CIO Council-sponsored XML Community of Practice group, held last week. Starbourne hopes to present a working prototype of a registry to the group, during its March 16 meeting.

A federal registry could be useful in that it could standardize the schema terminology that the federal government uses for its XML documents. (A schema describes the structure of an XML document, including terms that described each element in that document.)

Today there is a danger in each agency using its own terminology, which would eventually complicate efforts to share information between agencies, as agencies may have different terms describing the same things, Brooks said. Original terminology may also conflict with terms that already have been given formal meanings by other industries.

Terms such as 'incident,' 'event,' 'resource' and 'asset' all have different meanings in different communities, ranging from programming to emergency management.

'Those [terms] need to be more faithfully defined,' Brooks said.

Starbourne is undertaking the project with help from Plumtree Software Inc. of San Francisco, which will provide the portal software. The company hopes to generate additional public sector portal work from the project, Brooks said.

After the company builds this 'derived registry,' as Brooks called it, it will look into the feasibility of using the results to start a federal glossary of government XML terms. The results could also be used to construct an ontology about each agency's lines of business, which could be used by search engines to better locate agency material.

'This is just the beginning of the list of things that might be useful when analyzing how the government uses XML,' Brooks said. 'We don't know what we will find, but it's worth the exercise.'

The material will be retrieved from FirstGov through a Web crawler.

The idea of building a federal XML registry is not a new one, though previous efforts have been thwarted by lack of funding. In 2002, GSA's Office of Governmentwide Policy contracted with Booz Allen Hamilton Inc. of McLean, Va., to develop a business case for building a registry for the entire government.

Booz Allen Hamilton estimated that building an XML schema registry would cost about $7.7 million, with a total operational cost of around $59 million over a 10-year period.

The administration's fiscal 2004 budget allocated $2.1 million to GSA to build the registry, but Congress deleted the funds.

'I am very excited and encourage about what [Brooks] presented,' said Owen Ambur, co-chair of the XML Community of Practice.

About the Author

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

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