Internet-based system for federal documents previewed

Congressional administrative offices, librarians and select federal employees recently were given a glimpse of the government's first Internet-based system for collecting, distributing and preserving content from all three branches of government.

The Future Digital System, or FDSys, will replace the GPO Access Web site and other Government Printing Office operations when the first phase is publicly released in 2008, GPO officials said Monday. They were speaking at a federal depository librarian conference.

The federal depository program is an arm of the GPO, which is the agency responsible for distributing information about the work of the government to the public.

The librarians, part of a network of more than 1,000 libraries nationwide, provide public access to government documents, such as the U.S. census, the federal budget, the Congressional Record and presidential papers.

"I hope everybody realizes that FDSys is becoming real," said Mike Wash, GPO's chief information officer. The agency has spent the last three years carving out a vision and is now at the implementation point.

About a year ago, GPO picked Harris Corp. to build and deploy what essentially will transform a 19th-century printing press operation into a 21st-century electronic enterprise. Wash called Monday's showing a "snapshot" of some of the improved search functions and metadata, or tagging used to categorize information in the system.

Congressional bills, certain agency documents and the 2006 Federal Register are the resources currently searchable on the test site, said Lisa LaPlant, GPO's lead program planner.

If you enter a term such as "railroad retirement," you can now narrow your search by resource type to retrieve, for example, only bills. Then you can refine the search by bill version, date issued, bill number or congressional term.

Part of the reason for demonstrating the prototype is to gain feedback from people who will be responsible for entering and retrieving information, like the librarians and the offices of the clerk of the House and secretary of the Senate.

The librarians were shown how an employee from the Environmental Protection Agency might enter a printing job and how a House administrator might upload a new bill. "We want to continue to work with the community to make sure we have the right [search] navigators for the right collections," LaPlant said.

Besides narrowing search results, users can sort them by date, alphabetical order or relevance -- and they can pull the metadata for each entry.

Future functionalities will include advanced search, authentication, human touches like an aesthetic interface, and preservation. "We've been focusing very heavily on the packaging of information," Wash said.

As GPO officials previewed the operation, they took questions from members of the depository library council to the public printer. The council advises GPO on policy matters and the operation of the library program.

One member asked if documents on FDSys would be cross-referenced on popular search engines: "If I'm in Google, am I going to find it?" The answer was a quick, firm, "Yes."

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