How FDsys makes NOAA's records secure, accessible, permanent

Cache of coastal documents being added to GPO's authoritative online content management system

More than 5,000 records of U.S. coastal management programs for the last half century are being archived and made permanently available through the Government Printing Office’s Federal Digital System (FDsys).

The Coastal Zone Information Collection from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Coastal Services Center is a valuable record of state and federal programs from 1951 through 1999, documenting what works and what hasn’t worked in managing coastal resources, said CSC spokeswoman Donna McCaskill.

But NOAA was unable to manage, preserve and keep the cache publicly available indefinitely.

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FDsys will provide a permanent home for the documents with digital archiving and public access.

“FDsys became the official GPO system of record in December 2010,” replacing the GPO Access website, which was created in the 1990s to provide online access to documents, said Superintendent of Documents Mary Alice Baish.

FDsys is a 21st-century update, providing more than online access to text files and PDFs. The content is digitally authenticated to ensure that the copy being viewed has not been altered, it will remain permanently available through secure storage and being refreshed for new formats, and it is preserved in archival format independent of the access format.

“With FDsys we have a true content management system now,” said GPO’s Chief Technology Officer Ric Davis.

GPO works with the National Archives and Records Administration, the nation’s archivist, in the development and application of best practices for preserving and presenting digital data. It also is partnering with the Library of Congress to make U.S. Statutes from 1951 through 2002 available on FDsys, and is running a one-year pilot with the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts to make court opinions available.

Although FDsys is replacing GPO Access, the Access website is being maintained in parallel for the time being, Davis said. All new material is being added to FDsys.

GPO Access originally was a byproduct of the printing process. FDsys is the next generation, intended for an environment in which documents are born and live digitally. It is designed to provide authentication and management of electronic documents from their creation through long-term archiving in a trusted environment.

Digitally signed PDF files, using a certificate issued by VeriSign for Adobe CDS, display a certification from the superintendent of documents that the document is genuine and has not been modified. “That is something people are very interested in having, especially for citations and research use,” Davis said.

Files also are available in Extensible Markup Language format so the data can be repurposed in a variety of ways.

GPO began experimenting with digitally signed PDF files with the fiscal 2008 federal budget, the first time the official version of this document was published electronically. A beta version of the Authenticated Public and Private Laws of the 110th Congress database was incorporated into GPO Access, and GPO began digitally signing all bills published electronically during the 111th Congress.

In addition to authentication, FDsys offers long-term archiving to ensure documents remain available, even when hardware platforms and software formats for storing and displaying data change.

FDsys uses the Reference Model for Open Archival Information Systems for long-term preservation of electronic data, which creates data packages of content tied to metadata to 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.

Although there are a number of preservation formats, such as Reference Model for Open Archival Information Systems and JPG 2000, a standard format for digital preservation remains a work in progress.

“There is no complete agreement in the preservation community on what the perfect standard is,” Davis said. It must be open and refreshable so that it can be changed and updated with changes in technology. Beyond that, “at best, for the foreseeable future, it will be an ongoing dialog.”

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.


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