Federal Register App has Sunlight Staff Singing


The great thing about the Federal Register is that is has everything—it’s the historical record for the entire federal government, and outlines the decrees coming out of various agencies in near real-time.

The problem with the Federal Register is that it has everything, and it’s virtually impossible even for experienced researchers to spot what they need in the massive reams of blocky, sparsely-formatted text.

That’s where Bernie the Federal Register Watcher comes in—an Apps for America submission so pragmatic that some of us in the Sunlight Labs have been singing our own accompanying jingle for the app, named in honor of the Register’s first director.

Bernie scrapes the register and turns it into a virtual newsfeed, allowing you to monitor just the areas you’re interested in, drilling down by department, agency name and announcement type, and browsing digestible summaries, which are also available as Atom feeds.

Though the register, in its raw form especially, has a largely deserved reputation as a repository of dry bureaucrat-ese being shoveled daily into a void, resting in little-perused booklets by the Government Printing Office, Bernie seeks to build a community around the notices, allowing users to flag and comment on the less-monotonous dispatches.

In the end, this application achieves the measure of success we like to see most. It uses technology for a specific goal: To make a government tool that was hard to use, suddenly useful.