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Disclaimer: This post speaks from an outsiders perspective.  My interactions with this initiative have been from a regional implementers standpoint and I am not privy to any of the decisions that led to the OneDOJ initiative.  This perspective comes from actual project work and reviewing open source information regarding the broader initiative.

One of my first web service projects involved implementing a service from a WSDL provided to us by the federal partner in charge of a regional data sharing project.  This was my first brush with contract first and it did not occur to me until much later what this really meant.

As part of the Department of Justice OneDOJ initiative a new focus on information sharing created solutions which leveraged contract first / SOA approaches and principles.  Now the articles tout this as "one database" but in reality what is happening behind the scenes is a lot of federated searching among different data sources throughout the country.  The idea was that many regions or large cities have central databases already so instead of a lot of data duplication the DOJ could leverage this by creating a standard means for communicating justice data between involved partners.  The FBI has been at this for a while with things like NCIC but that data is limited as to what it communicates.  Extended data such as investigative records is not shared openly or easily.

The answer to this is a standard called LEXS (Law Enforcement Exchange System) which is a subset of NIEM that defines structures and messages for exchanging different types of justice information between justice entities (Law Enforcement, Courts, etc).  LEXS also includes WSDL's for two major feature areas: Publish Discover (PD) and Search Retrieve (SR). 

PD contains operations and messages to share the capabilities of your implementation.  Things like the version of LEXS you support, operations you support, etc.  When I implemented the WSDL for our exchange I did not implement PD so I cannot speak to much of it other than what I reviewed of the WSDL itself and the documentation.  I see the idea very much inline with the meta-data discovery that is mentioned in a lot of SOA discussions.  It is implemented (from what I can see) using a standard web service.  PD does not appear to implement any of the WS-Discovery protocols.  Not that it is a bad thing, I'm sure interop was a prime concern for this.

SR contains operations and messages to share data.  This is the real meat of LEXS.  LEXS defines basic operations to request data using free text or structured searches and messages to return data formatted using the LEXS subset of NIEM.  There is also some extensibility built in so that entities can utilize existing subsets of NIEM within those return structures.  When I implemented SR for the project we are involved in I implemented version 2.0.  Currently LEXS is up to version 3.1.1.

3.1.1 includes some major changes from 2.0 including the use of NIEM 2.0.  The WSDL's have changed slightly due to this so that they can accommodate for things you can do with NIEM 2.0 that were not possible in NIEM 1.0 or Justice XML.

In the public sector very few companies would be concerned with actually implementing this specific schema.  I bring it up because I think the approach is very cutting edge; particularly because it is being driven by some of the largest and oldest institutions of our government that historically have problems sharing.  The DOJ has adopted an SOA approach to their information sharing and are following through on all fronts including governance.  I have spoke on a few conference calls with some of the decision makers and influencers behind this program.  I was very impressed that they spoke in terms of the WSDL contracts (using operation names) and were linking the business process to the actual capabilities expressed in LEXS.  They are addressing concerns from different partners on what and how much information to share, etc.  All in all a fascinating initiative to get a glimpse of. 

Information sharing will not be the same going forward.  The dinosaur models of closed, custom formats are going bye-bye and being replaced with open formats and open standards.

You can study more on LEXS by reviewing the schemas and documentation from the Office of Justice Programs web site.

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Posted on Tuesday, May 20, 2008 10:37 PM | Back to top

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