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GCN : June 2014
CASE STUDY ELECTRONIC PUBLISHING On March 26, a visitor at the Government Print- ing Office's Federal Digital Systems (FDsys) down- loaded a Federal Register notice from the Securities and Exchange Commission, which was the 1 bil- lionth object retrieved through the site. Introduced in 2009, FDsys has become a workhorse portal for public access to more than 1 mil- lion official documents, videos, audio recordings and images from all three branches of federal government. Almost half of the 1 billion retrievals came during the last 13 months. The most com- monly viewed item is the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, with more than 14 million views since it became law in 2010. The system also hosts histori- cal documents, such as the 1964 Warren Commission Report on the assassination of President Kennedy, which has been viewed more than 20,000 times. FDsys was developed under a disciplined program manage- ment process using in-house expertise and infrastructure, designed for high availability and to support high demand vol- umes. "It's more complex than just a Web server," said FDsys manager Lisa LaPlant. Official documents are digitally signed, assuring the user that the documents are genuine and content has not been altered, and the system provides content management and a preservation repository for archival material as well as a site for online public access. It has demonstrated its ability to reli- ably deliver content during sud- den spikes in demand, such as during the release of the federal budget, which now is distributed primarily in a digital format. MAJOR REFRESH PLANNED But, "We are not resting on our laurels," said GPO's Chief Tech- nology Officer Ric Davis. A ma- jor refresh of FDsys now is in the planning stages, which will include an updated search en- gine and improved support for mobile devices. FDsys uses Extensible Markup Language (XML) and an ISO standard format for archival in- formation to enable searching across multiple collections, a feature not available in the origi- nal GPO website, GPO Access. "It was really a flat store of files with a search engine on top of it," LaPlant said of the old Ac- cess. "We needed something to better manage and preserve." GPO Access was mandated in 1993 to provide public access to GPO products and went online in 1994. It was developed in the infancy of online government, and "it served us very well for 15 years," Davis said. "But it did have some limitations." It used a search engine developed in- house, and the site's only func- tion was to serve up documents over the Internet. By 2000 it was clear that it was in need of an update, and a decision was made to develop a complete re- placement. Planning for FDsys began in 2005 and it was launched in Jan- uary of 2009, running alongside GPO Access for a year before the older site was retired in 2010. "To us it seemed like blinding speed," Davis said. WITH AGILE, DO NO HARM The development team used the agile development process of iterative and incremental software development, a cycle that includes planning, develop- ment, integration, testing and deployment. "The part that was really criti- Government Printing O ce's FDsys Web portal has served up more than a billion documents, videos, audio recordings and images since 2009 and plans for updated search engine and improved support for mobile devices GPO's FDsys: Over 1 billion documents served BY WILLIAM JACKSON 28 GCN JUNE 2014 • GCN.COM