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Information Quicksand

Government is a never-ending exercise in generating work product, the vast majority of which will languish in archives for years before being destroyed. For some information, the lifecycle is even shorter, with many products disappearing within the year.

The Government of Canada’s Cabinet Directive on Regulation outlines a series of mandatory public postings about upcoming regulatory initiatives in the form of a Forward Regulatory Plan (FRP). The Policy on Transparency and Accountability requires that FRP postings be updated annually on April 1. Updates may also occur during the year. Departments and Agencies are not required to keep historical copies of previous FRPS.

As a result, there is very little historical data to allow researchers, or the general public, to compare FRPs against regulatory workloads. I have been interested in how we could keep this information and use it to inform the regulatory process (particularly ex-post facto review.

While working on the FRPs for the Canada Border Service Agency, I started developing a very simple webscraping tool to grab the relevant FRP information and store it locally. This allowed me to take snapshots of the ever-evolving document.

Since moving to Regulatory Affairs at the Canada Revenue Agency, I felt that something like this tool would be useful on a whole-of-government level. I have started tinkering to expand the use cases. You can see what I’ve done over on Github. At this point, I’m storing the local snapshots on a webserver. Once, I have a more robust, government-wide data collection effort in place, I will share the url more broadly.

Let me know if this is something you find interesting or would like to help with. I’m trying to develop more projects that allow me to explore areas of interest, but also let me use my interest in technology.

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