EPA merges fragmented IT setup

Information technology at the Environmental Protection Agency will become a more integrated and "holistic" business under the terms of a recently completed strategic plan.

A fragmented IT regime within the agency will come under the control of a central information resources management office, the Internet will be used as a primary medium for getting information to the public, and companies that must report environmental data to the EPA will be provided with a "one-stop shopping" approach.

"The purpose is to establish a long-term direction so we all know the goals we are headed toward," said Mark Day, the EPA's IRM planning chief.

That sense of direction has been missing in the past. The various departments within the EPA responsible for different aspects of the environment have had to maintain separate databases and bulletin boards and their own "hot lines" for information phoned in by the public.

This led to increasing operational problems. A particular chemical given a label in one department, for example, could be identified with a completely different type of label in another. As a result, it has been difficult for the public to find information about EPA issues and for EPA departments to share information among themselves.

New Reporting Procedure

One of the first areas to be affected by the new plan will be the reporting of environmental information by corporations, according to George Bonina, who heads the Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxic Substances. Companies now report that information differently and by different methods, depending on which departments of the agency receive the information. Under the plan, companies will have just one way to file. "It consolidates the reporting side," Bonina said. "Companies will be able to report once rather than reporting multiple times to different parts of the agency."

This should help speed the updating of programs such as the Toxic Release Inventory, Bonina said. The office that handles that inventory processes about 90,000 forms per year, and the new reporting requirement should immediately speed up the 60 percent of those forms that are handled electronically.

The EPA will use kiosks in its headquarters and regional offices, as well as toll-free numbers, for members of the public who want information about the agency's activities. Internet users will also benefit from the construction of the EPA's Government Information Locator Service, Bonina said.

Although few areas of the strategic plan have been detailed, Day said, at least the plan has established a set of goals that will serve as a badly needed core set of IRM principles.

"Each of [the EPA's programs] has built information systems that meet those programs' needs," he said. "You have relatively successful programs, but the sum of those programs doesn't meet agencywide needs."

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