EPA sets goals, schedule for IT integration plans

The Environmental Protection Agency plans to spend up to $30 million over the next five years to expand electronic reporting for the industries it regulates and to set common standards for the data it collects and shares with states according to the agency's new information technology plan released late last month.

The EPA's "Reinventing Environmental Information" (REI) establishes for the first time specific schedules for the agency to integrate its many databases and to adopt comprehensive electronic data collection methods. Program Goals The major goals of the program include reducing errors in EPA databases making agency information easier for employees and the public to use and establishing a stronger foundation for improving agency information management in the future.

George Bonina team leader for REI with the EPA said the program budget represents "marginal costs...above and beyond what would be spent on system re-engineering." It would pay for developing new data standards and incorporating them into the EPA's information systems as they are revamped he said.

"We hope it's successful " said Christian Smith a research associate with the Environmental Commissioners of the States (ECOS) which lobbies the federal government on behalf of state environmental managers. "We think a major change was needed." According to the plan the REI initiative encompasses several projects that are already operational.

For example the EPA has begun to deploy the Environmental Data Registry which provides definitions and other information about the data elements the agency collects. In addition the EPA is working with several states on its One Stop Program an effort to enable polluters to file their reports once rather than duplicating them for federal and state regulators.

"There's a lot of redundancy and a lot of information that's [collected where it's] extremely unclear how it's used " said David Isaacs director of environmental affairs with the Electronic Industries Association. "It's been a problem for years."

Under the plan the EPA would have in place by fiscal 2000 an approved electronic reporting method for each of its 13 national information systems and have new data standards and electronic reporting fully in place by the middle of fiscal 2003.

Also by fiscal 2003 the EPA says it wants every state to participate in the One Stop Program. To enable this the EPA plans to work with ECOS to publish "generic software specifications for state information systems in fiscal 1999." Whether the agency can accomplish these goals depends on continued funding for its various modernization efforts the plan said.

However Congress has not always agreed with the EPA's budget proposals and $10 million was cut from the agency's funding request for its reinvention programs this year. Bonina said EPA managers would be meeting this month to determine how it will spend its smaller budget.

ECOS' Smith said the progress the EPA makes also will depend to some extent on how quickly states are able to make similar investments. Although most states are upgrading their own systems and want to be able to share information more easily with the EPA "some states are better prepared for it than others " he said.

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