GPO puts content over form in FDSys

Contract with Harris Corp. focuses on what digital archive will do

The Government Printing Office has no idea what its system to transform the way it preserves federal documents will look like. But then again, it might not matter right now.

GPO has a clear vision of what the new system will do, how it will work and the benefits it will bring to the government and public at large. And it is that vision that will guide how the printing office will work with Harris Corp. of Melbourne, Fla., to develop and implement the transformational Future Digital System (FDSys).

“We expect that there are a number of commercial off-the-shelf products that could be selected, configured and integrated into FDSys,” said Mike Wash, GPO’s chief technical officer. “Part of what we are looking for in our collaborative relationship with Harris is how they will come up with a COTS solution that meets our requirements, and then we and Harris will choose what is best for us.”

GPO earlier this month awarded Harris a four-year, $29 million contract to build at least the first two phases and run FDSys.

The agency said it expects next year to implement the initial stage—the system’s core functionality, including the ability to receive digital information and provide search and retrieval information to the public.

Harris will be responsible for the heavy lifting on FDSys, which will transform the way GPO collects, authenticates, stores and shares federal documents. Under the project, it expects to digitize nearly every federal document published since the birth of the nation, starting with the 1787 Federalist Papers. Harris’ sole partner is Progressive Technologies Federal Systems Inc. of Bethesda, Md., which does work for GPO’s Integrated Library System.

Eventually, the public will be able to search, view, download and print documents through a Web portal. GPO said the types of content that will be available include text, graphics, video, audio and other forms as they emerge. Wash said the project’s other two phases include improved search capabilities and preservation techniques.

The public might not see much difference in the look and feel of GPO’s Web site,, but the back end will be improved, Wash said.
“We are putting in a new architecture and will add bibliographic tags to make search easier,” he said. “We want to make sure we have the flexibility in our back-end system to support a wide range of user requirements.”

GPO translated its vision into a 1,700-requirement request for proposals in April. Harris beat out four other bidders for the right to build the system.

Karen Knockel, Harris’ program manager, said her company submitted a number of possible scenarios, provided GPO with the pros and cons of each of them, and drew on experience from the National Archives and Records Administration’s Electronic Records Archive project. Harris was beaten out by Lockheed Martin Corp. in the one-year “bake-off” to build the ERA system.

She added Harris’ proposal provided GPO with a cost breakdown of each scenario.
Wash said Harris’ effort with GPO will be as much about collaboration as about the vendor developing a system.

“The question is whether GPO wants to go with a pre-integrated suite, such as one from Documentum, IBM or Oracle, or a number of small products and we and they do the integration ourselves,” Knockel said. “There is a tradeoff between cost now versus cost later. A highly integrated solution gets you out of the box more quickly, but to preserve documents like they want to, there are some risks going with one vendor.”

She added that Harris will work with GPO to discuss each scenario.

Wash said he expects that some custom coding will be necessary, but GPO will depend on the Open Archival Information System (OAIS) standard, approved by the International Standards Organization. OAIS provides a framework and common terminology for archival services.

Wash said NASA was a part of the team that developed the standard because the space agency has to deal with large amounts of digital geospatial information.

The standard, however, was not complete enough for GPO, so the agency expanded it to include an access content package, Wash said.

“The archival information system was insufficient and we needed one that has strong information access system,” he said.

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