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Federal Register lights up the online world

Tome of official Washington, the Federal Register is now searchable after debut of fancy online version. Journalists rejoice...sort of.

By Staff writer / October 21, 2009



Washington

The Federal Register is Entertainment Weekly for government procurement lawyers. Or think of it as People magazine for lobbyists, and Field & Stream for assistant secretaries. All rolled into one.

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Never heard of it? You must live outside the Beltway. It’s the official journal of the US government. Dense with meeting notices, proposed rules, and final regulations, and containing nothing that even resembles a graphic, it looks like the most boring publication on the face of the earth.

Except it isn’t. At least, Decoder doesn’t think so. The Federal Register is, in fact, a compendium of what much of Washington really does every day.

This arises because the FR got a relaunch earlier this month, with the debut of a fancy online version. Its data are now easy to search, categorize, and even play with. One private site, govpulse.us, is already constructing word clouds with FR’s text. (Look at the Department of Agriculture’s. Who knew that for it, “spearmint oil” was such a big subject?)

“We are transforming the Federal Register from a one-size-fits-all tool essentially designed for lawyers into one that can be customized ... in countless ways,” said FR director Ray Mosley in a statement.

Well, maybe. But for Decoder much of the FR’s charm lay in the way you could flip through it and acquire random bits of knowledge.

Let’s test that out with a recent issue. Hmm, the EPA is proposing a new rule intended to reduce idling of heavy-duty vehicles in Delaware. Maybe that has something to do with the traffic on Interstate 95.

Oh, the FAA wants design changes in the landing gear on a particular model of Boeing 747. Wonder what that’s about.

And the Fish and Wildlife Service wants to designate slickspot peppergrass as a threatened species. Slickspot peppergrass – what a great name! Sounds like a huckster from a 1940s movie.

But Decoder does have a suggestion for further improvement. If the feds really want to spice up the FR, they should introduce comics.

“Get Fuzzy” can boost anybody’s mood. Even a lawyer’s.

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