DHS, Justice launch federal data model

Criminal justice XML implementation could be basis for a government schema

The Homeland Security and Justice departments have unveiled plans to work jointly on a common computer language that could become a model for agencies to use to share information.

Dubbed the National Information Exchange Model, this Extensible Markup Language framework will use Justice’s Global Justice XML Data Model as its base.

Justice CIO Vance Hitch and Homeland Security CIO Steve Cooper announced the new joint initiative, the Collaboration on Objects for Reuse and Exchange (CORE), last week at the Global Justice XML Data Model Developer’s Workshop in Arlington, Va.

The initiative is unrelated to CORE.gov, the Component Organization and Registration Environment, an online repository of business and technical components started by the Federal Enterprise Architecture Project Management Office.

The joint DHS-Justice effort could form the basis for a federal XML dictionary. Hitch said all federal agencies could use NIEM as a basis for their XML efforts. Yet he and others at the workshop acknowledged that participation from a larger number of agencies would be needed to prompt such adoption.

The idea is to “take the core data elements of JXDM that are neutral and use them in other disciplines,” said Paul Wormeli, executive director of the Integrated Justice Information Systems Institute, a Justice-funded nonprofit that assists law enforcement agencies in implementing the JXDM. “Now that all this work is done, why redo it?”

Others in the federal XML community see NIEM, at least the tentative first steps of the project, as moving government in the right direction on data interoperability.

Owen Ambur, co-chairman of the Federal XML Community of Practice, said establishing a base model for XML use could cut development time of other agencies’ own XML projects.

“In order to share information, we have to share the data elements efficiently,” Ambur said.
“The hard part of that is always agreeing on the terms and definitions, and the beauty of [JXDM] is that it has already been done.”

To the rescue

Using JXDM for a wider base makes good sense because it is a mature effort, said Jeremy Warren, Justice’s enterprise architecture specialist. Warren, along with Michael Daconta, metadata program manager at Homeland Security, oversaw CORE’s creation.

JXDM is an entire XML-based framework, Warren said. It includes a data model, a data dictionary and a 2,700-element XML schema. It also has processes for resolving name conflicts.

The Justice-sponsored Global Justice Information-Sharing Initiative’s Infrastructure and Standards Working Group created JXDM to better share data between state law enforcement agencies and Justice.

“The basic problem [JXDM addressed] was the need to share information, to create a standard vocabulary,” Wormeli said. Although different law enforcement agencies, courts and other organizations could set up point-to-point systems, it was becoming clear that they needed to organize the material so it could be shared without the need for setting up individual connections, which can be costly to establish and maintain.

Although the first finished version of the standard was published early last year, the JXDM model is already used by more than 50 law enforcement agencies at the state, local and tribal levels, as well as by other federal agencies, Wormeli said.

For instance, the FBI uses JXDM as the language underlying its National Data Exchange Program, said Kevin Reid of the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services Division. The program uses 301 elements from Global JXDM as a template through which local law enforcement agencies submit incident reports to the FBI for indexing. It lets a police department submit a report to the FBI without any additional work.

“It is a robust framework because it meets the needs of a wide array of organizations,” Warren said, noting that it was developed from the ground up with the input of many local offices, as well as industry and federal governments.

Though many elements are specific to criminal justice—such as items that go into incident reports—many others are quite general. An object such as “person” might contain elements such as “eye color,” or “date of birth,” which can be used across all agencies, said Sergey Kanareykin, deputy operations direction for the Center for Advanced Defense Studies, a nonprofit research organization that Justice commissioned to test the performance of JXDM.

By serving as NIEM’s base, JXDM will give CORE a solid foundation, though workshop participants said JXDM itself won’t be the entire basis of NIEM. In fact, development on the Global JXDM model itself will continue apart from NIEM, Warren said.

Instead, the team hopes to form what Daconta describes as a basic core of elements that will be shared by different agencies’ schemas and an inner core of basic terms that span all federal schemas. As other models are entered into the NIEM infrastructure model—say from the Transportation Department or the Health and Human Services Department—a basic vocabulary will be generated.

Getting buy-in from other agencies will be essential, Daconta said. By forming a partnership with Justice, Homeland Security became the first participant.

The partnership will let the department reuse components of the JXDM model for some of its own XML data modeling, Cooper said. DHS adopted the model because it saw no benefit in re-creating “what had already been done by the Justice Department. That makes zero sense,” Cooper said.

Not for everyone

For DHS, the imperative to adopt Global Justice’s model is clear; however, it might not be so for other agencies, Ambur said. Some agencies may already have XML projects under way or choose to build projects using their own terminology.

Warren said another strong point for JXDM is that it does not force participants to conform to the JXDM schema. An agency can develop its own schema and use the interpretation layer to convert documents from that agency’s information into the JXDM schema, making it available to other JXDM participants.

Warren said the CORE team will look for other XML-related projects within DHS and Justice that would fit easily within the NIEM framework.

“There is no lack of low-hanging fruit,” Daconta said. “It will be an issue of choosing wisely which ones we will get the most bang for the buck from.”

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