Owen Ambur's Talking Points
September 20, 2001
On the afternoon of September 19, Tim Sprehe called and asked me to filled in
for Ed Arnold on the panel entitled "Web Sites and Citizen E-mail - Surviving
the Avalanche." Ed was unable to participate due to other priorities
resulting from the events of September 11. The conference program is at http://www.fedweb.org/fall2001program.shtml
and the session descriptions are at http://www.fedweb.org/fall2001sessions.shtml
Time did not permit me to prepare a formal presentation, but here is a
recapitulation of my talking points:
- My interest in this topic stems from my co-chairmanship of the XML Working Group as well as my
vice chairmanship of FIRM.
- One of the two original proposals
that I made which led to formation of the XML Working Group was to use XML
metatags to classify and manage E-records Government wide.
- The other was to render all Government forms in XML and gather the data
from them in XML.
- At my prompting, Jim Whitehead, the "father" of WebDAV, is exploring the
development of an open-source alternative certified for records management
purposes under DoD Std.
- As a first step, he has proposed convening a workshop to render the
elements in an XML
- Hopefully, the records management schema will be made available in a registry/repository at xml.gov for
use in records management applications.
- With technical support from NIST, GSA has issued a request for proposals
to develop the registry and the pilot
should be operational soon.
- Contrary to Tim's remark, I am not suggesting that E-mail should be
abolished -- merely that it should be used appropriately.
- E-mail is designed for quick informal messages.
- E-mail is not designed and should not be used to transmit
- E-mail should not be used as a quasi-document/records management system.
- Just because it is possible to grow bananas on Pike's Peak doesn't mean
that anyone should try to do so.
- Instead the proper tools should be used appropriately.
- Some of you may have heard of the Capability Maturity Model (CMM).
- E-mail is a stage of immaturity through which we must pass.
- E-mail messages are "records" but generally should be treated as
- I call the notion that individuals must "declare" records to be records
- In the context of electronic information systems, the terms "management"
and "metadata" are virtually synonymous.
- The question is how much "management" (i.e., metadata) any particular
class of records warrants.
- I submit that most E-mail messages warrant relatively little metadata.
- E-mail attachments are a primary means by which viruses are transmitted.
- Here's a headline and quotation from today's edition of The Washington
Post (p. E3):
- Computer Worm Called More Potent Than Predecessors -- Like many previous
viruses, Nimda arrives via e-mail as an attached file. E-mail programs
that use Microsoft Internet Explorer 5.5 ... to display HTML formatted
messages will automatically open the viral payload... Web browsers visiting
a site already infected by Nimda may invisibly download the virus mistaking
it for a multimedia file.
- Forrest Gump has a saying for this: "Stupid is as stupid does."
- E-mail attachments also greatly complicate the records management problem,
since they needlessly replicate records in an uncontrolled manner across the
- It is unclear whether anyone or everyone is maintaining copies and for
how long they are doing so.
- Nor is it possible to tell which version is the final one.
- If I had my way, E-mail attachments would be prohibited and E-mail
messages would be limited to plan ASCII text.
- Instead, all business-quality records would be created and managed
throughout their full life cycles in Web-based, XML-enabled, DoD-certified
E-records management systems.
- DoD Std. 5015.2 is not perfect or complete, but it is a good basic set
- XML-related enhancements to the standard will be considered at a meeting
of the XML Working Group
- Due to the events of September 11, that agenda was postponed from
September 19 to a date to be determined.
- Such issues as interoperability, long-term accessibility, E-FOIA,
privacy, and dissemination of records will be considered.
- ISO 15489 is an international standard for records management that
parallels DoD Std. 5015.2.
- Australia proposed it.
- The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) adopted it.
- Several years ago the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) established a
best practice in the use of a Web-based document management system enabling
citizens to file their comments on the National Organic Program (NOP) directly into the system.
- Citizens provided their own metadata, including for example the sections
of the proposed rule on which they were commenting.
- In turn, citizen comments were posted back to the Web for the benefit of
- The system pre-dated DoD Std. 5015.2 and XML.
- Now that XML and the 5015.2 standard are available it will be much
easier to implement such applications and they will have much better
- It is disappointing that others have not picked up on the best practice
established by AMS several years ago.
- The Administration is developing a Citizen-Centered eGovernment Action Plan.
- One focus is likely to be improvement of FirstGov.
- The key to making FirstGov more effective is for agencies to use
Web-based, XML-enabled, DoD-certified electronic records management systems
to manage and embed the appropriate metatags in all of their records.