New-look Federal Register online debuts

The government today released a new online prototype for its daily diary of agency and news that's designed to be more usable, understandable and accessible.

The federal government released a new version of the Federal Register today that’s meant to look and feel more like an online news Web site instead of a bureaucratic diary.

Federal Register 2.0, as officials are calling the unofficial prototype Web site, is designed to be a more user-friendly online version of the printed Federal Register where federal agencies publish rules that have been proposed and finalized. Officials from the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) and the Government Printing Office (GPO) released the XML-based site in beta version, ,and will continue to make improvements to it in the coming months.

Federal Register Managing Editor Michael White described the site during a briefing to reporters as “a combination of and USA Today.”

The Federal Register has been published for 75 years, and White is hopeful that the Federal Register’s official sanctioning organization will eventually allow the new site to be considered an official edition of the publication.

Related story

NARA set to debut new Federal Register site

“This is never going to be light reading, but I think what something like this does is make it a bit easier for folks to get into the substance of the document,” White said while previewing Federal Register 2.0’s features for reporters.

The new site displays documents published in the official print and online versions of the Federal Register in what officials call “articles” in a Web newspaper format. The documents are divided into six topical sections: money, environment, world, sciences and technology, business and industry, and health and public welfare.

The site will also feature selected and crowd-sourced articles chosen based on user interest, input from agencies and the editor’s judgment. In addition, major agencies have their own pages as part of the site.

Other features of the site include:

  • A calendar tool that keeps tracks of the duration of comment periods for proposed rules, dates final rules go into effect and public meeting dates
  • A topical index
  • Tables of contents for documents that have been extracted from the documents themselves
  • Summaries and key information
  • Links to the Unified Agenda of Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions
  • Linked legal references
  • Page numbers and footnotes
  • Ways to share files through social networking applications
  • Images, and possibly graphs, charts and maps and
  • Open source code and data free for use in other applications.

GPO said the site was developed over five months at a cost of $275,000. GPO and NARA’s Office of the Federal Register worked with three developers to develop the site who had previously designed an application to make the data on the register more accessible. That application took second place in the “Apps for America 2” contest from Sunlight Labs.

“It's not uncommon for us to hear from people in government who say they'd love to improve their online offerings, but are hemmed in by the cumbersome acquisition process or other bureaucratic hurdles,” Tom Lee, director of Sunlight Labs, said in a blog post. And to be sure, those are real challenges--but the new shows that they're challenges that can be overcome. The folks at GPO and NARA deserve a huge hand for making this happen."