Federal Register relaunching Web site to make it easier to navigate

By Ed O'Keefe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 26, 2010

Eager to boost public participation and awareness of the federal rule-making process, the Obama administration will relaunch the Federal Register's Web site Monday with a design resembling a newspaper Web site.

The Register is the federal government's weekday compilation of new and proposed policies, regulations and public meeting notices. The first edition published in 1936, and its first Web site launched in 1994. An essential resource in Washington's legal and lobbying circles, the Register is rarely used by most Americans unfamiliar with its legal and bureaucratic jargon.

But Monday's relaunch should make the Register even easier to navigate: Its new Web site will divide the thousands of federal rules and regulations into six main categories: money, environment, world, science and technology, business and industry, and health and public welfare. (Editors will add other sections with public feedback.) Register employees will highlight items on the home page that relate to the day's headlines or topics of Washington debate. Each notice will appear on an individual page with a plainly written summary, links to agencies seeking formal public comment, and the ability to share items on Facebook and Twitter.

"It's like USA.gov meets USA Today," Register managing editor Michael White said during a recent preview for reporters.

"We think it will open up the site in a way that the general public wouldn't normally go into it," he said.

Carl Malamud, a leading government transparency advocate, said the redesign is "the exact thing that open government advocates have been pushing for."

"If you make bulk data available online, all sorts of innovation happens, and then the government can use that innovation to build their own systems cheaper and more efficiently and better," Malamud said.

The redesign cost about $275,000 and took five months of work among Register staffers, officials at the Government Printing Office and National Archives, and three private developers from California. The trio built a version of the Register last year as part of a contest sponsored by the Sunlight Foundation, a government transparency advocacy group.

"I think we're beginning to see government get excited about really pursuing new technologies and embracing the newest things out there," said one of the developers, Bob Burbach.

White said the Register might one day appear only online.

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