Federal Register Goes XML (Now Make 'Em Glad They Did)
BY Nancy Scola | Monday, October 5 2009
Here's a nice point on the board when it comes to e-government. The Federal Register -- what you might think of as the United States government's version of "Dear Diary, here's what I did today" -- will be published from here on out in XML format, reveals Fed Reg director Ray Mosley on the White House blog. What's more, reports the Washington Post, archives of the Federal Register going back to 2000 have been converted into the structured and easily-remixable XML format, and posted to Data.gov. The new XML versions of the day's rules, regulations, presidential orders, and more isn't exactly user-friendly. Each weekday gets its own data file, and every year is bundled on Data.gov into a separate zip file. But that's where the rest of us are supposed to step in and make good use of the data, writes Mosley, who points to projects like Princeton's FedThread and GovPulse as useful third-party navigators of the Federal Register files.
If it seems funny that Mosley is using his time on the White House blog to give shout-outs to independent developers, there's a good reason for that. Free information isn't free. Well, at least, converting a couple decades of Federal Register to XML isn't free. Going back to 2000 cost $100,000 says Mosley. Going back to '94 will cost another $150,000. Justifying the devotion of resources to producing beautiful data requires people doing beautiful things with the data. And here, Mosley practically issues a challenge. "Someone could demonstrate something to us," he told the post, "and we could start the wheels rolling."