EPA info network taking shape

Environmental Protection Agency

The Environmental Protection Agency is making steady progress in its effort to develop a single network to exchange environmental information with states.

EPA officials expect to have approximately 20 states integrated into the National Environmental Information Exchange Network by the end of the year. Only a handful of states are currently connected — most notably Delaware, Nebraska and New Hampshire.

The network is a major component in the agency's goal to coordinate a one-stop information exchange service at the national, state and tribal levels. It will replace and complement existing approaches in which states feed data directly into the EPA's multiple national data systems.

"I think it's making some pretty good progress, especially with some of the vendors who are coming through on it," said Pat Garvey, the agency's staff director for the Network Steering Board. "We're seeing a real synergy developing right now as states are learning from each other and from the EPA."

To integrate into the service, participating states and agencies must develop network nodes or portals that are used to enter information into the exchange.

The EPA is helping facilitate that development by awarding states and tribal agencies 69 grants this year, with the money intended solely for the development of network nodes. The agency has a fiscal 2003 budget of $20 million for the grant program, and has requested $25 million for fiscal 2004.

Through the network, the EPA and state agencies will exchange information on environmental topics such as safe drinking water analyses, air emissions, beach monitoring and notifications, and hazardous waste permits and cleanup.

Garvey feels that the EPA's missions align with those of other federal organizations, such as the Interior, Agriculture and Energy departments. He lists mining issues as a topic that creates an opportunity to exchange information with Agriculture and Interior, while emission data from power plants calls for coordination with Energy.

Environmental data that affects important health issues also spurs a need for interagency coordination and efficient, timely exchange with regional and state health organizations.

Citing a "natural connection" to these other federal agencies, Garvey expects Karen Evans, the new administrator of the Office of Management and Budget's Office of E-Government and Information Technology, to have a positive influence on information sharing among agencies and states.

Rick Cloutier, vice president of marketing at XAware Inc., a provider of data integration technology, thinks the EPA is taking the right approach to building the exchange network.

"They have a strategy that they've provided to the states, and they've also provided funding," Cloutier said. "I would expect [that] over the next year to 18 months the EPA will be able to get 80 [percent] to 90 percent of the states online."

XAware has conducted a pilot program with Delaware, Nebraska and New Hampshire, and is working with several other states on their network node development.

Garvey praises the contributions of vendors such as XAware, Microsoft Corp. and Oracle Corp. as a boost to the network's development, giving states access to more robust Web services than they have had in the past.

Currently, the EPA operates the Central Data Exchange network, on which states and agencies can submit information to the agency. This will serve as the node onto the network in the future, according to EPA plans.

Garvey expects a substantial flow of information to occur among the states by late December. Agency officials hope to have the prototype of a main portal operational by the end of 2004 to link together the separate state and tribal nodes into a true one-stop service.

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An information ecosystem

The National Environmental Information Exchange Network is a new approach for the exchange of environmental data among the Environmental Protection Agency, states and other partners. Data will be exchanged between nodes or portals maintained by participating partners, eliminating the need for states to send data to multiple EPA data systems.

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