Federal Register Gets User-Friendly Updates

The government's newspaper of record, long maligned for its poor transition to the web, is getting some well-deserved improvements to make it more useful online.

J. Nicholas Hoover, Senior Editor, InformationWeek Government

July 15, 2010

2 Min Read

The Federal Register, the official daily newspaper of the federal government and the traditional primary source of new federal rules and regulations, Presidential proclamations and public meeting notices, is about to get a long overdue upgrade.

The public downloaded more than 200 million Federal Register documents in the year ending September 30, 2009, but open government advocates like the Sunlight Foundation and Carl Malamud of public.resource.org have long complained about the broadsheet's inaccessibility on the web.

The Federal Register publishes tens of thousands of pages annually, but they're difficult to navigate online, available to the public primarily as simple text or in PDF form. Last October, after continued prodding by open government advocates, the government released the Federal Register in XML, which has enabled developers to build some Web apps around Federal Register content.

However, now, the National Archives and Records Administration is taking things several steps further -- sparked somewhat by pressure from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, which has been heading up the Obama administration's open government efforts -- by readying Federal Register 2.0, the initial beta for which will be available on July 26.

The new website is intended to free the Federal Register from the confines of its print-based structure and make it finally appear more like an online publication of government news. Click through news sections will be organized by topic and agency (including things like Money, Environment, Science and Technology, etc.), important articles will be spotlighted, the site will include a calendar of events, and users will be able to see which articles are the most viewed, emailed and cited.

In addition, a timeline of the rulemaking process for individual rules and regulations will accompany new rules. Readers will be presented with links to comment on them and to read the rules and regulations the new rules are intended to replace. Readers will also be able to create personal RSS feeds on certain topics or agencies.

The new site also has something for developers: the site itself will be open source and make bulk XML data available. There will be no restrictions on re-use of code from the site, meaning that developers have freedom to build apps around the site and its content.

After the beta version of the site goes live on July 26, the public will be invited to give feedback on and help the government plan possible new features and improvements, and that will be followed by additional brainstorming by agencies themselves. The final version of Federal Register 2.0 is expected to go live next year.

About the Author(s)

J. Nicholas Hoover

Senior Editor, InformationWeek Government

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