April 2014 Bar Bulletin
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April 2014 Bar Bulletin

Next-Generation Design Drives FDsys

By Rick Stroup
Assistant Director

 

On March 16, 2012, the Government Printing Office (GPO) officially shut down GPO Access, the massive website that had been the premiere, but not exclusive, online source for current and archival federal government information.

GPO Access was created in response to the U.S. Government Printing Office Electronic Information Access Enhancement Act of 1993 (Public Law 103-40) and, along with prominent websites such as THOMAS, served as the online face of federal government information for more than 15 years.

GPO announced the development of its eventual replacement - FDsys - in 2009 and began the arduous task of simultaneously and systematically phasing out the old system and populating the new one. This process included parallel maintenance of both systems, switching the role of "System of Record" from GPO Access to FDsys, operating the former as an archival repository only, and finally closing GPO Access completely.

Like its predecessor, FDsys is not the only online source for federal government information and it does contain current and archival information from all three branches of government. Unlike its predecessor, it is built on a content management system that improves GPO's ability to guarantee security and authenticity, and allows users to search and filter both content itself and metadata about that content through a search interface similar to those used by commercial websites.

According to GPO, all content originally in GPO Access is contained in FDsys and is assembled in approximately 50 "collections." The definition is GPO's own and for most the subject matter is obvious - the Code of Federal Regulations or the United State Code, for example. The catch-all Additional Government Publications, which includes all content not included in one of the other collections, requires you to delve a bit more to determine what its scope covers.

In one sense, searching FDsys is simple and very "Google-like." From the home page - http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys - enter your keywords or terms in the Search Government Publications box and select Search. The results list on the right side of the screen will include links to documents from all collections that match your request.

On the left side of the screen, you'll see an area labeled Narrow Your Search, which lists the metadata facets or categories - such as date, government author, collection, etc. - that you can use to narrow your results list. Because the breadth and depth of documents indexed on FDsys are enormous, this approach can produce lengthy results lists that may still be difficult to read through even after you've applied additional filters.

If you can identify the FDsys collection that is likely to contain the documents you're looking for, it is more efficient to use the Advanced Search option to first restrict your search to a particular collection and then search for your terms. Advanced Search also enables you to limit your search to specific dates and certain parts of the document, all of which will help to make your results list more accurate and manageable.


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