XML portal in the works

A working group of the federal CIO Council plans to launch a portal next

month to promote and coordinate the use of a technology that will help agencies

more easily exchange data internally and with one another.

The council's XML Working Group is putting the final touches on XML.gov,

which will be a resource and demonstration site for Extensible Markup Language

(XML) technology. A prototype of the portal exists now, and the

group hopes to take the site live in January.

"We hope that XML.gov will be the focal point for all government agencies

to go to to learn XML and to experience XML and share XML experiences,"

said Marion Royal, an agency expert at the General Services Administration

and co-chairman of the XML Working Group. "Some agencies have spent time

and investments in XML that we'd like to leverage."

Other agencies can see how they can apply XML to meet federal regulations

such as Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, which requires agencies to

make office equipment and Web sites accessible to people with disabilities,

he added.

The XML specification makes it simpler for applications to exchange

information by defining a common way to identify and package it. Interoperability

is easier, however, if agencies agree on common definitions. As a result,

the XML.gov site may someday host an online registry that contains XML definitions

agencies use, Royal said. "The registry also allows agencies to make sure

they are in alignment with industry registrations, XML schemas and data

elements," Royal said. "But first we will decide whether or not it's necessary

to have one."

Industry registries may exist that government can use without making

its own. Meanwhile, the Defense Department is developing XML registries

for an XML.mil site.

GSA and the working group first plan to identify core elements that

exist on forms commonly used across government, said Owen Ambur, co-chair-man

of the XML Working Group and a U.S. Fish and Wild-life Service official.

There is an opportunity for agencies to define some of these elements, such

as name and Social Security number, the same way using registry definitions.

"XML can help facilitate communication between different systems and

also provides a means to reconcile those differences so we have one common

schema for government years down the road," Ambur said. Many agencies — including the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, DOD and GSA — have already

begun using XML.

USPTO began accepting online patent applications in October. The applications

use XML, which makes them easier to publish and process. "We can access

the data in the documents for use in our internal systems without having

to re-key or convert the data using optical character recognition," said

Deron Burba, manager of USPTO's Patent Re- engineering Systems Division.

Share and share alike

The CIO Council's Enterprise Inter-operability and Emer-ging Information

Technology Committee has chartered the XML Working Group to undertake four

activities:

* Identify pertinent standards and best practices.

* Establish partnerships with industry and public-interest groups.

* Establish partnerships with governmental communities of interest.

* Coordinate education and outreach.

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