Electronic Government:

Challenges to Effective Adoption of the Extensible Markup Language

GAO-02-327: Published: Apr 5, 2002. Publicly Released: Apr 5, 2002.

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Extensive markup language (XML) is a flexible, nonproprietary set of standards designed to facilitate the exchange of information among disparate computer systems using Internet protocols. Although XML's technical standards, such as specifications for tagging, exchanging, and displaying information, have largely been worked out by commercial standards setting organizations and are in use, equally important business standards are not as mature and may complicate near-term implementation. Standards are not yet complete for (1) identifying potential business partners for transactions, (2) exchanging precise technical information about the nature of proposed transactions that partners can agree to, and (3) executing agreed-upon transactions in a formal, legally binding manner. The federal government faces many challenges as it attempts to gain the most from XML's potential. First, no explicit governmentwide strategy for XML adoption has been defined to guide agency implementation efforts and ensure that agency enterprise architectures address XML incorporation. Second, federal agencies have not yet identified and consolidated their needs for effective representation before key standards setting bodies. Third, the government has yet to establish a registry of government-unique XML data structures for systems developers to consult when building or modifying XML-based systems. Agencies must also ensure that they address XML implementation through enterprise architectures to maximize XML's benefits and forestall costly future reworking of their systems.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: OMB has stated that it works closely with the Federal CIO Council, which established a XML working group under its Architecture and Infrastructure Committee. According to its charter, the working group's goal is to "accelerate, facilitate and catalyze the effective and appropriate implementation of XML technology in the information systems and planning of the federal government." NIST is represented in the XML working group as an ex-officio member. OMB and the working group have established guidelines for participating in the governmentwide XML registry. Specifically, the guidelines outline accessibility to the registry, along with how to participate and what information can be included. The working group has also established guidance on using XML in the federal government that specifies best practices and recommended standards.

    Recommendation: Given the statutory responsibility of OMB to develop and oversee governmentwide policies and guidelines for agency IT management, the director of OMB, working in concert with the federal CIO Council and NIST, should develop a strategy for governmentwide adoption of XML to guide agency implementation efforts and ensure that the technology is addressed in agency enterprise architectures. This strategy should, at a minimum, address how the federal government will set policies and guidelines for managing and participating in the governmentwide XML registry, once it is operational, to ensure its effectiveness in promoting data sharing capabilities among federal agencies. These policies should clarify the roles and responsibilities of specific agencies and should consider including definitions of classes of compliance, which could be used to categorize how rigorously organizations adhere to the policies. Further, these policies should promote the consistent use of XML name spaces to resolve potential ambiguity in data references across XML documents.

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Office of Management and Budget

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The XML working group, established by the Federal CIO Council, has partnered with the General Services Administration (GSA) and National Institute of Standards and Technology in piloting the use of registry/repository software. In addition, GSA developed a detailed capital asset plan and business case (OMB Circular A-11, Exhibit 300) for the operational version of the registry for consideration in the fiscal year 2004 budget cycle. By having a detailed capital asset plan and business case, OMB and its partners expect to be able to transition the pilot XML registry effort into an operational government-wide resource.

    Recommendation: Given the statutory responsibility of OMB to develop and oversee governmentwide policies and guidelines for agency IT management, the director of OMB, working in concert with the federal CIO Council and NIST, should develop a strategy for governmentwide adoption of XML to guide agency implementation efforts and ensure that the technology is addressed in agency enterprise architectures. This strategy should, at a minimum, address how the federal government will develop a project plan for transitioning the CIO Council's pilot XML registry effort into an operational governmentwide resource. This plan should include identifying time frames and resources needed to implement and maintain an operational registry linked to agency repositories of standard data structures.

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Office of Management and Budget

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: OMB stated that it has worked closely with the Federal CIO Council, which established an XML working group under its Architecture and Infrastructure Committee, to define roles, responsibilities, and accountability for identifying and coordinating government-unique XML requirements. The working group has established a detailed charter that defines roles, responsibilities, and accountability for identifying and coordinating government-unique requirements. According to the charter, the working group's objective is to "accelerate, facilitate and catalyze the effective and appropriate implementation of XML technology in the information systems and planning of the federal government." Specific topics outlined in the charter include participation, decision-making, leadership, duration, publication of information, meeting schedules, and financial support.

    Recommendation: Given the statutory responsibility of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to develop and oversee governmentwide policies and guidelines for agency information technology (IT) management, the director of OMB, working in concert with the federal chief information officer (CIO) Council and National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), should develop a strategy for governmentwide adoption of Extensible Markup Language (XML) to guide agency implementation efforts and ensure that the technology is addressed in agency enterprise architectures. This strategy should, at a minimum, address how the federal government will develop a process with defined roles, responsibilities, and accountability for identifying and coordinating government-unique requirements and presenting consolidated, focused input to private sector standards-setting bodies during the development of XML standards. This process could be patterned. after the current process that is in place for Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) coordination among federal agencies, or OMB might consider adapting the EDI process to cover XML as well. Guiding the overall process should be the presumption that mature, agreed-upon commercial standards will be adopted by the government whenever possible.

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Office of Management and Budget

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: According to OMB, the Federal Enterprise Architecture (FEA) Technical Reference Model (TRM), Version 1.1, was released on August 26, 2003, and addresses the usage of XML standards within defined service areas such as (1) Service Access and Delivery, (2) Service Platform and Infrastructure, (3) Component Framework, and (4) Service Interface and Integration. The FEA TRM outlines the standards, specifications, and technologies that collectively support the secure delivery, exchange, and construction of business and application components that may be used and leveraged in a Component-Based or Service Oriented Architecture. By establishing the TRM, OMB has set a specific framework for ensuring that agencies address business needs for XML technology in their enterprise architectures.

    Recommendation: In addition, as part of its ongoing process for reviewing agency IT architectures and annual budget requests, OMB should ensure that agencies' business needs for XML technology are defined in their enterprise architectures. Specifically, OMB should specify requirements for documenting the usage of XML standards and products in the standards profile section of the architecture--the section that defines the set of rules governing systems implementation and operation.

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Office of Management and Budget

 

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