2002 Federal CIO Council Showcase of Excellence Award Finalist

FOSE, March 19-21, Washington DC Convention Center

US Environmental Protection Agency, Natural Language Interface to Web Content (VoiceXML and the FedGov XML Content Network) (1-866-745-7735)

[Editor’s Note: This project was recognized for excellence in “technology innovation“ by the CIO Council at its awards luncheon on Wednesday, March 20, 2002.]

Extensible Markup Language (XML) is a new standard for preserving and communicating information - encoding, tagging, and internationalizing - for the World Wide Web. The value proposition of XML for the government is:

      XML “future proofs” information against periodic technology change, facilitates integration, and promotes collaboration.

      Web Services use XML data and messages to provide communication between applications running on different Web servers that will bring the Internet to a new level called the Third Generation. Peer-to-peer (P2P) Web Services reduces the costs of integration and can replace data replication and warehousing.

      XML is not limited to Web publishing, but can deliver data to alternate devices like the telephone.

The recent GSA Office of Intergovernmental Solution Newsletter, Issue 11: XML Applications in Government (http://www.gsa.gov/Portal/content/pubs_content.jsp? content OID=120147&contentType=1008&PMGZ=1) featuring 28 articles provides an excellent introduction to the uses of XML by governments. One of the articles (“Building Peer-to-Peer XML Content Networks of Web Services for Federal Scientific and Statistical Data and Information: FedStats.Net and Beyond” by Brand L. Niemann, US Environmental Protection Agency) describes an XML-based FedGov Content Network which uses FileMaker Pro from FileMaker, Inc. (http://www.filemaker.com) and the NXT 3 P2P Platform from NextPage, Inc. (http://www.nextpage.com) to deliver XML to VoiceXML and the Web. FileMaker Pro simplifies Web database development, provides very low cost deployment, and delivers XML output. NXT 3 provides not only XML Web Services and an XML Registry and Repository, but high-level data coordination and collaboration across distributed content.

VoiceXML (http://www.voicexml.org/) is a Web-based markup language for representing human-computer dialogs, just like HTML. But while HTML assumes a graphical web browser, with display, keyboard, and mouse, VoiceXML assumes a voice browser with audio output (computer-synthesized and/or recorded), and audio input (voice and/or keypad tones). VoiceXML leverages the Internet for voice application development and delivery, greatly simplifying these difficult tasks and creating new opportunities.

VoiceXML 2.0 is also a specification of the VoiceXML Forum, an industry consortium of over 300 companies. The Forum is active in the conformance testing, education, and marketing of VoiceXML, and has given control over further language development to the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) (http://www.w3.org/Voice/). Because it is a specification, applications that work on one conformant VoiceXML platform will work on others as well.

The ordinary phone has been very important in the development of VoiceXML, although VoiceXML's appeal is more general. The typical VoiceXML voice browser of today runs on a specialized voice gateway node that is connected both to the public switched telephone network and to the Internet. These voice gateways extend the power of the web to the world's 1,300,000,000 phones, from antique black candlestick phones up to the very latest mobiles. Tools to develop VoiceXML applications are available on the Web (http://studio.tellme.com/). TellMe Networks revolutionizes how people and businesses use the telephone by fundamentally improving the caller experience with Internet and voice technologies (http://www.tellme.com/ and 1-800-555-TELL). VoiceXML takes advantage of several trends: (1) The growth of the World-Wide Web and of its capabilities. (2) Improvements in computer-based speech recognition and text-to-speech synthesis. (3) The spread of the WWW beyond the desktop computer.

The US EPA Chemical Emergency Preparedness and Prevention Office (CEPPO) provides support to the states that are required to create Local Emergency Planning Committees (LEPCs), with members to be drawn from such fields as public safety, health care, and local industry. LEPCs are required to submit an emergency response plan to identify hazardous chemical storage and transportation, along with procedures for emergency response, public notification, and evacuation in the event of an accidental release, spill, or other chemical emergency. CEPPEO provides the Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC) Contact Database for over 3000 LEPCs using FileMaker Pro on the EPA Web site (http://www.epa.gov/ceppo/lepclist.htm). Because EPA also needs to provide universal access to that database to those with visual handicaps because of Section 508 (http://www.section508.gov) and to those without Internet connections (the Digital Divide), it provides an excellent first pilot of the use of VoiceXML.

This project was an interagency and government-private industry partnership team effort under the auspices of the Federal CIO XML Working Group (http://xml.gov) and the GSA’s Universal Access Collaboration Expedition Workshops Program (http:// people.internet2.edu/~ghb/coexp) as follows:


          Peter Gattuso (202-564-7993), Chemical Emergency Preparedness and Prevention Office (CEPPO), U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), LEPC Web Development.

          Greg O’Connell (301-941-1853), Jim Stilwell (760-723-8253), Art Clarke (415-378-4554), David Weiden (650-930-9000), TellMe Networks, Inc., TellMe Network Services.

          Jerry McFaul (703-648-7126), US Geological Survey, FileMaker & Web Server.

          Bruce Law, Mark Fredrickson, Jonathan Jarvis, Craig Brown, and Simon Chung (801-768-7500), NextPage, Inc., NXT 3 P2P Platform Software and Services.

          Brand Niemann (202-260-2510), Office of Environmental Information, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), FedGov Content Network Development and Management and XML Web Services Training.

          Janina Sajka (202-408-8175), Director Technology Research and Development
Governmental Relations Group, American Foundation for the Blind. Project Advisor.

          Susan Turnbull (202-501-6214), Office of Governmentwide Policy, US General Services Administration, Project Advisor.

          Owen Ambur (703-358-2138), Co-Chair, Federal CIO XML Working Group, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Project Advisor.