Federal Register 2.0: Opening a Window onto the Inner Workings of Government

Every weekday the National Archives and Records Administration publishes the Federal Register, a detailed description of the Executive branch’s doings, including 150 daily policy decisions of President and Federal agencies, such as proposed and enacted changes to federal regulations. Most Americans don’t look for it on their doorsteps in the morning, and you don’t see a lot of people perusing it on their daily commutes, but the Federal Register is nothing less than the "newspaper of our democracy," providing the most comprehensive overview (80,000 pages a year!) of how federal agencies are dealing with issues ranging from clean air and water to highway safety to science policy.

When it was created 73 years ago, the Register was a tremendous advance in making government more open and accountable to the American people. But this "newspaper" is heavy reading. The text is dense and detailed and organized chronologically in a Department-by-Department and Agency-by-Agency format, making it more accessible in practice to avid government-watchers and experienced interest groups than the general public.

That’s why we're pleased to announce that as of today the National Archives and Records Administration and the U.S. Government Printing Office will publish the Federal Register in "XML." XML is a simple and flexible, machine-readable form of text that is easy to manipulate with software. By putting the Federal Register in XML, the federal government is for the first time allowing individuals to take control over how they want to read the Federal Register.

With an XML edition, independent organizations can reorganize the Register’s contents in ways that are more meaningful to you and address your personal interests; track issues that are likely to affect your community or your profession; and even engage in real-time public discussions about its contents with others across the country and around the world.

For example, Princeton's Center for Information Technology is today set to launch Fedthread.org, which allows users to annotate the Federal Register and comment in its margins. Another organization, Public.Resource.org, has created a software application that makes it simpler to search the Federal Register. And GovPulse makes it possible to visualize the Federal Register by topic or by location so the reader can see how particular government actions affect different local communities.

In these new formats, more people can read about what their government is doing and, even more significantly, can participate and get involved. We anticipate that, with this rich storehouse of government information now freely available in a 21st Century electronic format, we'll proliferate new software tools that greatly enhance the Federal Register’s readability and relevance. As United States Public Printer Bob Tapella has said: "By updating the Federal Register for the 21st century we are providing the American people the tools to access the documents of our democracy."

You can find the Federal Register in XML each day at www.gpo.gov or on data.gov. We encourage enterprising readers to take advantage of this new format and turn their creativity to the task of making the Register even more readable, accessible, and user-friendly. We'll be looking for the best ideas to incorporate in how we publish this newspaper of our democracy.

UPDATE: To comment on this post, visit the OSTP blog.

Ray Mosley is the Director of the Federal Register at the National Archives and Records Administration

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