July 30, 2011

Federal Register On Steroids

"The Federal Register is "the official daily publication of rules, proposed rules, and notices of Federal agencies and organizations, as well as executive orders and other presidential documents." It is published by the Office of Federal Register, National Archives and Records Administration in the Government Printing Office's (GPO) Federal Digital System (FDsys)--"the next generation on online government information."

Attached is a snapshot that shows a very basic chronological order of posts with an issue of the Federal Register subdivided by agency/organization. It's organized and to the point!

Now, here is a new way of looking at the information from GovPulse, a site developed to "make such documents as the Federal Register searchable, more accessible and easier to digest...to encourage every citizen to become more involved in the workings of their government and make their voice heard." The site is built from open source.

You'll see that there is a lot more information readily available, organized in multiple ways, and really quite user-centric; some examples:

1) Number of Entries for the Day: The number of entries for the day are listed right at the top.
2) Calendar for Selecting Day of Interest: Next to the number of entries for the day, you can click on the calendar icon and get an instant 3 months of dates to choose from or enter another date of interest and be instantly take to there.
3) Statistics for the Day: The right sidebar displays the locations mentioned on a map and the types of entries and reporting agencies in pie charts.
4) Department Entries are Prominently Displayed: Both the number of entries for each department are identified as well as identifying their type and length along with an abstract for the entry. Each Department's entries can easily be expanded or collapses by clicking on the arrow next to the department's name.
5) Entries are Enabled for Action: By clicking on an entry, there are options to share it via social media to Twitter, Facebook, Digg, and Reddit to let others know about it and there is also a listing of your senators and representatives and their contact information to speak up on the issues.

Additional helpful features on the homepage--immediate access to areas that are last chance to act or what's new, such as:

1) Comments closing in the next 7 days
2) Comments opened in the last 7 days
3) Rules taking effect in the next 7 days
4) Rules proposed in the last 7 days

Moreover, you have another map with bubbles showing mentioned locations or you can enter your own location and get all the entries subdivided by 10, 15, 20 miles and so on up to 50 miles away.

Another feature called Departmental Pulse, show a trend line of number of entries per department over the last year or 5 years.

At the top of the page, you can quickly navigate to entries in the Federal Register by agency, topic, location, date published, or do a general search.

There are other cool features such as when you look at entries by department, you can see number of entries, places mentioned, and a bubble map that tells you popular topics for this department.

Overall, I think GovPulse deserves a big thumbs up in terms of functionality and usability and helping people get involved in government by being able to access information in easier and simpler ways.

The obvious question is why does it take 3 outsiders "with a passion for building web applications" to do this?

While I can't definitively answer that, certainly there are benefits to coming in with fresh eyes, being true subject matter experts, and not bound by the "bureaucracy" that is endemic in so many large institutions.

This is not say that there are not many talented people in government--because there certainly are--but sometimes it just takes a few guys in a garage to change the world as we know it.

Federal_register Govpulse


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