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The API Briefing: Writable APIs – The Federal Register.gov Commenting Feature

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Up till now, all the APIs that have been written about in The API Briefing were read-only APIs. That means that information is only one way: from the API to the user or app. These APIs do allow limited interactivity in that the database behind the API can be searched, but the existing data cannot be edited, or new data added to the database.

There are some federal government APIs that are writable. Users or apps can use writable APIs to add information or edit information in the API’s database. Writable APIs can be very useful in collecting information from citizens and crowdsourcing public projects, such as reporting potholes or aiding in disaster relief efforts.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s eRulemaking Program Management Office created a writable API that allows citizens to comment directly on proposed regulations. The Office of Federal Register’s FederalRegister.gov is the first of eRule’s partners to utilize the API for implementation. When a user is viewing a regulation on FederalRegister.gov, he or she can click on the “Submit a Formal Comment” button. A textbox appears, and the comment is recorded for that particular regulation.

FederalRegister.gov uses the Regulations.gov API to search and display regulations on the Federal Register site. Now, with the “Formal Comment” addition to the Regulations.gov API, public comments are captured and stored with the corresponding regulation. FederalRegister.gov stresses that their site does not store the comment information but only transmits the information through the API to Regulations.gov. An added benefit of the new Formal Comment API feature is the ability of the commenter to subscribe to future notifications concerning his or her comment.

In future postings, I will explore more writable APIs and how they help improve government service delivery. Read-only APIs opened up the vast stores of federal government information. Writable APIs open up federal government services, and this will bring about a better connection between citizens and their government.

Update: An earlier version of this article credited the Office of the Federal Register with creating the writable API, but the API was created by EPA’s eRulemaking Program Management Office.Each week in “The API Briefing,” I will showcase government APIs and the latest API news and trends. Visit this blog every week to learn how government APIs are transforming government and improving government services for the American people. If you have ideas for a topic or have questions about APIs, please contact me via email.

Dr. William A. Brantley, PMP, is a Program Analyst, in Forecasting and Methods at the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM). You can find out more about his work in this space at BillBrantley.com.

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