Research and Advances
Computing Applications Digital government

Fedstats: the Gateway to Federal Statistics is an award-winning portal to a distributed digital library of statistical information compiled by more than 70 federal agencies. The challenges in simply providing access are many—organizational, bureaucratic, technical, and usability to name just a few.
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Access is simply a starting point for both citizens seeking statistical information and the agencies hoping to develop FedStats into a National Statistical Knowledge Network. The ultimate goal of FedStats is to help users gain knowledge through statistical information about the health, economic well-being, and quality of life, the state of the U.S. educational system, economy, environment and natural resources, and so forth. However, turning statistical information into knowledge is a difficult challenge. FedStats looked to the academic community—primarily through collaborations under the aegis of the NSF’s Digital Government Program—to help develop the tools to facilitate this process.

Several of the digital government projects focus on the design of tables and graphs for the Internet. With Java tools, it is possible to design interactive presentations that allow the user to control what and how the data is presented. But, defining the parameters of such interactivity, both from a cognitive user-oriented perspective and from a statistical appropriateness, producer-oriented perspective, is a difficult research challenge.

Combing through the millions of numbers produced by the federal government each month to produce a coherent picture of any aspect of American life is not easy. Take, for example, a simple subject like gasoline. Each month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Energy Information Administration, and the Census Bureau each produce several sets of relevant statistics, which are available in a variety of formats—PDF, HTML, or in an RDMS. Information integration in situations like this is the focus of another grant.

Not all user demands are met through the extensive sets of tabulations regularly developed by the agencies. Researchers and policy analysts often need the ability to use complex analytical techniques that require processing observation-level data. Since respondents usually provided data to the government voluntarily and confidentially, it is not publicly available. One of the digital government projects is focused on building software that would allow such research to be conducted via the Internet without allowing the researcher to see or deduce individual observations.

Without the research conducted in academia with the support of NSF, e-government will never be raised to a level that truly supports public use, rather than simply access to federal statistical information.

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