Federal CIO Council XML Working Group

Meeting Minutes

October 18, 2000

General Services Administration

Room 1108


Co-chairs Owen Ambur and Marion Royal convened the meeting at 9:30 a.m. at the General Services Administration.  Mr. Ambur introduced new attendees.  The chairs asked for any comments on/corrections to the September 20 meeting minutes.  None were forwarded and the minutes were approved.




1.     Lisa Carnahan (NIST) has created a prototype of xml.gov.  All WG members are invited to comment upon the site’s design, content, and structure.  A site logo contest is under consideration.

2.     Owen Ambur announced that The United Kingdom has recently made a substantial commitment to the government-wide use of XML.  Any additional information on the UK’s initiative would be appreciated.

3.     Mark Crawford (LMI) provided members with a copy of the resolutions passed at the most recent ANSI ASC X12 committee’s trimester meeting.  Notable items include the committee’s decision to develop accredited, cross industry XML Business Standards, to petition ANSI for official recognition as an accredited XML Business Standards body, and to develop these standards in partnership with the UN/CEFACT EDIFACT Working Group.  Mr. Crawford also provided several articles announcing the UN/EDIFACT and ASC X12 joint venture.

4.     Mr. Crawford also provided the WG with a W3C update.  The working drafts for XML Schema parts 1, 2, and 0 and the DOM Level 2 Proposed Recommendation were published in September (comments for the latter end October 25).  The second edition of XML 1.0 and the XML Signature Syntax and Processing Last Call were published in early October.

5.     OASIS has expanded its technical process for the development of industrial XML standards.  Mr. Crawford provided the press release.

6.     RosettaNet has formed a semiconductor manufacturing board as part of an initiative to expand e-commerce standards.  Mr. Crawford provided the press release.


eXtensible Business Reporting Language (XBRL) Presentation


Zach Coffin, Sergio De la Fe, and Chris Moyer of the XBRL Consortium presented the eXtensible Business Reporting Language to the WG.


Chris Moyer provided the WG with an introduction to XBRL and the XBRL Consortium.  XBRL is an AICPA sponsored open specification for financial reporting information designed to provide transparency and usability of all financial data everywhere.  The mission of the XBRL Consortium is to “enhance the availability and cost effectiveness of global business reporting.”  The first taxonomy published was XBRL 1.0 for Commercial/Industrial Financial Reporting in July 2000.   Release 1.0 for Federal Government Financial Reporting will be available for comment in December 2000, with final version scheduled for February 2001 publication.


XBRL is applicable to every organization in every country and is the only standard of its kind in existence.  Currently, most XML applications deal with transactions while XBRL is focused on business reporting.  Over 70 companies and many XML standards groups are members of the Consortium.  DFAS has recently become the first government agency to join.  XBRL will also begin work with the FDIC.


The XBRL taxonomy for the federal government will be based on the US Standard General Ledger.  This will encompass the general business rules government-wide, which can then be customized to fit each agency’s particular requirements (e.g. DFAS must report military retirement statements).  XBRL will be used for both intra- and inter-agency financial reporting.  It can facilitate aggregation and exchange of financial statements.


Mr. Ambur asked if the SEC has worked with the XBRL Consortium.  Mr. Coffin replied that the two have been talking, but their efforts are currently a “work in progress.”


Sergio De la Fe briefed the WG on the features and benefits of XBRL.  As XBRL provides a common data format for software applications, it will eliminate errors that arise when the same date must be entered and re-entered into multiple programs.  This improves the efficiency and quality of financial data reporting.  With XBRL, a certain set of data needs to be entered only once for multiple uses.


XBRL is developing rapidly.  In addition to work on the federal taxonomy, the Consortium has begun developing internationally.  Currently, the International Accounting Board is considering use of XBRL as an international standard.


Mr. De la Fe also presented a diagram of XBRL’s use in the government financial information supply chain and, for comparison purposes, its use in the commercial financial information supply chain.  Mr. Ambur observed that certain commercial areas, such as the use of XBRL for EDGAR and tax filings commercial organizations prepare are analogous to the annual performance plans and measures federal agencies must prepare.  He noted that XBRL could be used to produce real-time reports rather than annual ones.  Mr. De la Fe replied these observations are the kind of input the XBRL Consortium wants to solicit from the WG.


Mr. Ambur commented that the WG would like to establish a registry at xml.gov where agencies could identify their own data elements and see if they correspond to any used by another agency to avoid overlap.  Also, while the WG would like to use commercial data elements to the greatest extent possible, there are certain ones that are unique to the government.  The registry would help identify them.


Zach Coffin restated the benefits of XBRL (facilitates the aggregation and reporting of financial data, provides interoperability between systems and applications, is uniquely focused on business processes, etc…) and pointed out that XBRL enhances e-commerce by adding a standard reporting function to financial activities.  As a result, the private sector is beginning to adopt a practice of continuous auditing.  The government may want to consider doing so as well.


When asked what method the Consortium would use to implement XBRL in the government, Mr. Coffin replied that the Consortium believes there are two major areas where XBRL could be implemented.  The first is the financial reporting both within an agency and to higher government authorities.  This area would require a top-down implementation strategy headed by the CIOs.  The second encompasses the unique interactions each agency has with related areas of the private sector.  This area would require input from agency specialists and need not begin at the highest levels.  Additionally, the Consortium would like to have CFO and CIO representation in its membership.  Optimally, each agency would select one technical specialist and one financial specialist to work with the Consortium.


Mr. Crawford observed that FESMCC is already working with standards committees to ensure the unique needs of federal agencies are addressed in standards development.  Additionally, FESMCC is used to coming to a consensus and speaking as one voice for the government.  It could serve as the government’s representative to the XBRL Consortium.


Mr. Ambur asked if the Consortium has had any contact with the CFO Council.  Mr. Moyer replied that the Consortium has been in contact with the executive director of FinanceNet, but has not yet given any formal presentations to the CFO Council. Mr. Ambur stated that he would convey the message through the CIO Council's interoperability committee that the

CFOs should be engaged in partnering with the XBRL Consortium.


Mr. Crawford noted that EWG and X12 are beginning to build financial objects.  This may be an opportunity for XBRL to partner with them.


Mr. Ambur suggested that the xml.gov site could facilitate collaboration between agencies by making implementation information available electronically.  This would reduce the cost of participation in the Consortium, as employees would not have to travel to conferences.


Mr. Coffin said that the Consortium would like to establish a formal liaison with the XML WG.


The WG then broke for ten minutes.


Strategy Discussion


The meeting re-convened at 11:00 a.m. for a strategy discussion led by Mark Crawford.


John Hood (SBA) asked how the provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act were being addressed in standards development, if at all.  Marion Royal replied the GSA is currently working on these issues.  He added that XML data can be presented in multiple formats and that clients can use applications that take advantage of these formats.  Mr. Crawford noted that work is going on to use XML tags to drive data feedback to present Braille to blind users.  Additionally, multimedia presentations can assist disabled users.


Mr. Hood asked how the presentation of websites could be adapted for disabled persons.  For example, the commonly used “Click here” link has no meaning for a blind web surfer.  W3C is creating working groups to address these issues.

Mr. Royal pointed out that multiple presentation formats would be useful not only for the disabled, but also for all users (e.g. “voice-only” presentation for people driving their cars).


Brand Niemann (EPA) noted that the GSA’s Center for IT Accommodation is also working on implementing the Federal IT Accessibility Initiative (Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, which requires access to the Federal government's electronic and information technology).  WG members can learn more about the CITA’s work as well as tools to make websites accessible at the CITA’s website, http://www.itpolicy.gsa.gov/cita/index.htm.


Mr. Ambur welcomed the representatives from the Small Business Administration and briefed them on the previous meeting.


Mr. Crawford then convened the Strategy Discussion.  Following the WG’s October meeting, he and the WG co-chairs met to discuss the WG’s progress.  They agreed that the WG ought to have an open ended discussion on the WG’s responsibilities and elicit feedback on the WG’s charter issues.  The XML Work Group Charter lists the group’s four major responsibilities: to develop XML best practices and recommendation of standards, to develop partnerships with key industry and public groups developing XML standards and specifications, to develop partnerships with existing federal “vertical” communities to accelerate the delivery of XML benefits, and to conduct “results-oriented” education and outreach.


Develop XML best practices and recommend standards: This involves developing guidelines for XML implementation and use.  Mr. Royal saw two methods for the WG to propose policy or recommend standards and practices once the CIO council has endorsed them.  The first would be to distribute the recommendations to agency heads.  The second would be to forward the recommendations to OMB for incorporation into operating policy.  Mr. Ambur felt that since it takes a long time to adopt policies, and since most people are attracted to “best practices,” the WG should consider issuing the best practices to the agencies as guidelines.  This would encourage their adoption while limiting the number of policies involved with XML implementation.  Mr. Ambur felt that the WG ought to be selective in deciding what it wants made policy.


There was a concern that it would be hard to ensure compliance with the WG’s recommendations without them having the stamp of “policy” on them.  Mr. Royal suggested that, with regards to standards, the WG could compile a list of common data elements that it could urge OMB to publish as a standard.


Mr. Niemann pointed out that the EPA received an executive order to avoid duplication of data elements.  Perhaps an executive order would be the tool needed to establish a standard.


Mr. Crawford noted that the United Kingdom has put together a government policy that could serve as a model for discussion of whether to create policy or issue best practices.  He suggested that the government could have the following policy: agencies must either use the same standard or must adhere to the business standards developed by one body.  Currently, agencies are striking out in their own directions.  The DoD is developing XML policy focused on warfighter architecture rather than business practices.  This work should be transferred to the CIO or JECPO.  The EPA is beginning to develop its own policy.  Mr. Crawford suggested that members from each agency’s policy committee should meet to develop one uniform policy/standard/business practice guidelines.


Mr. Niemann pointed out that the EPA began with two subcommittees, one focused on technology and one focused on policy.  They shortly found that the tech group began outlining policy and the policy group began discussing technical aspects.  As a result, the two subcommittees decided to rejoin.  This experience shows that there is a need for some sort of policy before implementation can begin in order to avoid chaos.


Mr. Crawford observed that the government has already started down the path of implementation sans guiding policy.  There are different sections of agencies working on developing solutions to the same problem.  The goal of the WG is to encourage interoperability and avoid having each agency develop its own unique solution to business problems.


At this point, Mr. Ambur observed that there appeared to be a consensus that there was a need for at least some level of policy.


Carol Blackston (DOE) stressed the need to get the word out about the WG and its work to develop standards so agencies would be informed.


Roy Morgan (NIST) commented that publishing a FIPS might be the best way to implement standards across the government.  In his opinion, the FIPS process is very similar to the one being discussed.  Mr. Royal replied that the WG must be very careful not to appear as if it is creating a federal standard.  Mr. Crawford observed that FIPS 161-2 established support for commercial standards.


Tom McCullough (SI International) suggested using agency data administrators to define the data elements that would need to be part of a government standard.  The biggest challenge facing data administrators is often to find common data elements within their own agencies.  Mr. Ambur asked the WG how it could help data administrators accomplish this task efficiently.  Mr. Crawford stated that data element definition is but one aspect of XML implementation.


Mr. Niemann voiced a concern that conventional federal IT policy is too slow.  He cited the EPA as an example.  While it believes that it has a state of the art environmental data registry, its senior management has realized that it is not keeping place with XML development.  To deal with this, he suggested that the WG develop a pre-implementation policy that will deal with semantics and core data elements.


Mr. Crawford summarized the discussion by stating that there was an agreement on the need of some level of policy  combined with best practice guidelines.  The issue was earmarked for further discussion in the future.


Registries and Repositories: Mr. Crawford asked the WG if there was a need for a registry or repository.  Mr. Royal felt that there was, and that the WG should look to NIST to help develop one.


Mr. Morgan cautioned that the development of a repository is a big step and that the WG must first define its functions and features before it begins construction.  He also pointed out that the entire repository need not reside in one place.  It could reside in several different locations.  Mr. Crawford stated that XML allows for such separation.


Mr. Royal commented that he initially was opposed to the idea of a federal-level registry, but has decided that one will probably be necessary.  He recommended that the WG observe how commercial organizations have developed registries, then establish a registration process that it could point federal agencies to.  Lisa Carnahan is currently working on registries for Oasis and W3C.  The WG could take advantage of her expertise.


Mr. Ambur suggested that the WG focus on information collection that the government is already doing and take advantage of a pre-existing data collections process.


Mr. Niemann observed that the repository could be used as a clearinghouse which agencies could visit to get an idea of one another’s data elements and initiatives to identify commonalties.  This would facilitate inter-agency cooperation and coordination.


Mr. Royal believes that the WG should not wait on the establishment of a FIPS.  Instead, it should research what agencies are doing with XML and provide the CIO Council with the recommendation that agencies register their XML initiatives on the WG registry.


Terry Gower (DLA) asked what the cost of creating a registry would be.  Mr. Crawford estimated approximately $1-2 million to establish, and approximately $1 million annually to maintain.  Mr. Niemann said that the EPA’s costs roughly $3 million per year.  The WG’s registry would require at least 2 full time employees to maintain it.


Mr. Ambur wondered what the cost of not establishing a registry would be.  Mr. Crawford recommended that the WG conduct a survey of private industry’s registry work.


Design Guidelines: Mr. Crawford asked the WG if it wanted to wait and see what the commercial sector came up with in the way of business standards.  Mr. Gower observed that the complexity of sending transactions between the DoD and the military services illustrates the need for interoperability.


Mr. Crawford observed that there are few guidelines in existence.  X12/EWG have just begun to define its own.  It would be best to continue to survey what is going on in other organizations and determine any impact on accessibility and interoperability.  Mr. Ambur remarked that if the development of guidelines is tied closely to issues of accessibility, the WG could receive funding for the effort.


Best Practices: Mr. Royal commented that the roadmap will address some issues pertaining to best practices.  The roadmap should be complete in another month.  Mr. Gower informed the group that within the next couple of months JECPO and the DLA should complete a DoD roadmap for the use of EDI.


Mr. Crawford asked if the GSA has finished its data call for its database of eBusiness initiatives.  None of the WG members present knew if it had or not.  Mr. Crawford suggested that the WG resume its best practice discussion upon completion of the road map.


Technical Standards: The original recommendation for technical standards was to coalesce government unique requirements and take them to a technical standards committee.  Currently, there is no movement within the CIO Council to do this.


Mr. Royal commented that the WG must know what FESMCC is going to do with regards to technical standards so the two bodies could work together and not duplicate one another’s work.  Mr. Crawford observed that FESMCC’s focus is business standards, but Mr. Royal argued that it could hardly ignore technical standards in its work.  Mr. Royal also wondered where the WG could find technical experts to work on these requirements.  Mr. Niemann suggested using the Digital Government Consortium as a source of expertise.


There was a consensus that the WG should talk to FESMCC, Digital Government Consortium, and the CIO EIEIT about technical and business standards.


Remaining issues were shelved for future discussion.


Mr. Ambur suggested that the WG develop project teams with specific tasks.


Mr. Royal hoped that the listserv could serve as a discussion forum, especially for those members unable to attend the meetings.


All handouts will be available electronically.  E-mail marion.royal@gsa.gov.


Next Meeting: November 15.


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XML Working Group Attendance List

October 18, 2000


Owen Ambur


Ann Andress

Federal Reserve

Michael Bailey

XML Solutions

Carol Blackston


Tim Boland


Timothy Brice

XML Solutions

Mark Crawford


Zach Coffin

XBRL Consortium

Sergio De la Fe

XBRL Consortium

Kathy Flitter


Alice Gannon


Diane Gannon


Terry Gower


Laura Green


Jeff Greger


Dave Hagler

XML Solutions

John Hood


Rosemary Ludt


Thomas McCullough

SI International

Bill Morgan


Roy Morgan


Chris Moyer

XBRL Consortium

Brand Niemann


Marion Royal


Felise Shellenberger


Mike Sinisgalli

XML Solutions

Jason Sutback

Sequoia Software

Pete Zairis

Information Services