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Government Agencies Introduce User-Friendly Federal Register


While the Federal Register may be the ultimate record of the business of the USA’s Executive Branch, it can be a difficult document to navigate. The Register publishes approximately 80,000 pages of documents each year in the form of Notices, Proposed Rules, Rules and Official Documents; this is where all new and amended rules to Part 97, the Amateur Radio Service, must be published before they will go into effect.

On Monday, July 27 -- in an effort to make things a bit easier on the thousands of people who access the Federal Register each and every day -- the US Government Printing Office (GPO) and the National Archives’ Office of the Federal Register (OFR) launched a new and improved online Register -- named Federal Register 2.0 -- an outgrowth of President Obama’s first executive order that mandated greater transparency in federal government. The launch of the new site coincides with the 75th anniversary of the Federal Register Act on July 26, 1935.

“In much the same way that newspapers have looked at making content more accessible by changing the print and typeface, we can now do the same thing by making the Federal Register available such that people can manipulate it and customize it and reuse the content to make the information even more accessible,” said White House Open Government Initiative Director Beth Noveck.

On the older version of the Register’s Web site, you had to know specific search terms (such as the page number the article was on). The new site now lets users choose which category they would like to search in: Money, Environment, World, Science and Technology, Business and Industry, and Health and Welfare. Issues involving Amateur Radio would mainly be in the Science and Technology category, but others might be in Environment or Business and Industry.

The new site also boasts an “at a glance” feature on its landing page that lets users immediately know how many Notices, Proposed Rules, Rules, Significant Regulations and pages are in the current issue of the Register. Users can also quickly see how many articles and how many comment periods are ending.

Users can plug in search terms, such as “ARRL” and a list of articles including “ARRL” will be listed. On Tuesday, July 28, this included 39 articles from March 9, 1994 (Proposal to Establish a Vanity Call Sign System in the Amateur Service) to June 15, 2010 (Amateur Radio Use of the Allocation at 5 MHz). It also shows 49 events -- such as comment periods closing or opening and the effective date of rules -- and one Unified Agenda Item (Broadband Over Power Line Systems) that was marked “economically significant.

When searching “ARRL,” users can also find at a glance how many articles have been released in the last 30, 90 and 365 days. Users can also see how many of the 39 articles were Notices, Proposed Rules and Rules, as well as which agency each article is affiliated with (sometimes the ARRL deals with more than just the FCC) and the topic. Right now, the topics on Federal Register 2.0’s ARRL search page include (in order of the number of articles attributed to each subject) Radio, Communications Equipment, Reporting and Recordkeeping Requirements, Administrative Practice and Procedure, Privacy, and Television. Each of these search topics are accompanied by a link -- click on “Rule” and you will be taken to a page with all 21 Rules; click on “Communications Equipment” and you will be taken to a page with all eight articles on that subject.

Issues of the Register going back to 2000 will be available in a form known in the Web world as Extensible Markup Language (XML). This lets users to transport data from a Web site and store it, reorganize it or customize it elsewhere. In a press release from the GPO, officials said that this move puts readers, rather than the government, in charge of deciding how to access the Register’s reams of information.

According to White House officials, Federal Register 2.0 should make it easier for users to find their specific topic without having to wade through volumes of unrelated material, allowing users, including Web site designers, to quickly gather data and manipulate the information with tools, such as mapping software, word clouds, spreadsheets and e-mail alert systems. In the future, Amateur Radio operators tracking FCC policies might subscribe to an e-mail alert system built by a good-government group that will notify them of updates published in the Register. A California resident monitoring the impact of federal regulations on his neighborhood might visit a Web site that allows him to search the Register’s items by state, county and Zip code.

According to Director of the Federal Register Ray Mosley, it cost the government approximately $100,000 to convert the Federal Register issues dating to 2000. The Register went online in 1994, and converting issues from 1994 to 2000 will cost at least another $150,000, he said. He anticipated little effect on his staff of 59 editors, technical experts and lawyers.

The Office of the Federal Register publishes the Register each business day. The first issue, published March 14, 1936, had 11 pages; the issue on Tuesday, July 27 had 264. According to the White House, the Register published 79,435 pages in 31,879 documents during fiscal year 2008, its largest year ever; online readers downloaded more than 200 million Register documents in fiscal year 2009. The Federal Register also has its own Facebook page.  -- Some information provided by The Washington Post



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