XML efforts need focus, GAO says

"Electronic Government: Challenges to Effective Adoption of the Extensible Markup Language"

Despite multiple initiatives to define common federal standards and requirements for Extensible Markup Language, the lack of central XML guidance could derail interoperability within government, according to a General Accounting Office report.

XML enables agencies to "tag" data and documents so it is easier to exchange information among applications and systems. The private sector has established many technical XML standards, including the basic rules for tagging, structuring and displaying information.

However, every user community must create business standards that provide the vocabulary to perform transactions, and federal agencies have not come together to define the governmentwide vocabulary, according to the GAO report released April 5.

Without this central effort or any attempts to encourage widespread definitions, "the use of XML in the federal government may have only limited benefits and may not achieve the technology's promise of facilitating broad interoperability among disparate systems," the report states.

Several agencies oversee federal information policy and standards, starting with the Office of Management and Budget and including the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the General Services Administration and the Defense Information Systems Agency. But each is involved in developing some form of government XML business standards, and that approach will not help foster the intended governmentwide interoperability, according to report.

GAO is recommending that OMB, along with NIST and the CIO Council's XML working group, develop a strategy for governmentwide adoption of XML to guide agencies and ensure that XML is addressed in each agency's enterprise architecture.

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