USGS wants to breathe life into GILS

U.S. Geological Survey officials are pushing for an updated version of a program mandated by Congress nearly a decade ago to provide online indexes of government information.

USGS officials say the federal government should adopt a revised Global Information Locator Service (GILS), an interoperable search standard, with Web service to retrieve accurately ranked lists of matches across search engines.

"Right now, most search sources are stovepipes," said GILS architect Eliot Christian, manager of data and information systems at USGS. "The status quo is one-at-a-time-search with integrate-by-hand results."

The new GILS -- detailed in an Office of Management and Budget memorandum, the International Organization for Standardization standard 23950, Federal Information Processing Standard 192-1 and a framework for interoperable search -- would search atlases and catalogs of the world’s libraries, directories and Internet resources. "The whole ISO 23950 standard comes from the idea of information retrieval, as do the search engines," Christian said.

An overarching "Google of all Googles" would not work, he said. "Think of all the public policy implications of that. We’re not going to have one solution.”

Currently, people looking for federal information searches must use Google for the Web, Microsoft for inside their systems and Convera for multimedia, then cut and paste. "Searchers get only partial and questionable results," Christian said, speaking April 7 at a meeting of the Industry Advisory Council's e-Government Shared Interest Group.

Christian is proposing that the government specify an ISO search standard for acquisitions and require that search vendors offer standard gateway software that works with the GILS standard. That would reduce migration and legacy access costs for agencies, Christian said, since search technologies change regularly.

Many government information sources, including libraries, are already highly interoperable using the GILS protocol, Christian said.

OMB is expected to take action on his draft recommendation on interoperable search, which was prepared in 2004.

Some information policy experts are skeptical that the idea will take hold. "I think this is an excellent recommendation on its merits," said J. Timothy Sprehe, an information resources management consultant to federal agencies and a Federal Computer Week columnist. "However, since most federal agencies ignore [GILS], I expect they will also ignore this recommendation for search interoperability.”

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