Energy debuts portal for environmental data

The Energy Department this month launched a World Wide Web portal site that will provide environmental and safety information to 125,000 departmental employees and contractors as well as the public.

Richard Kiy, acting principal deputy assistant secretary for environment, safety and health at DOE, said the portal is the first step in creating a knowledge management system that would change how the department addresses nuclear safety, pollution prevention and hazardous waste cleanup at its weapons facilities.

"DOE is an organization that has historically been stovepiped from an information standpoint," Kiy said. "What that has done in the context of environmental health and safety is create an environment where there's not a sharing of information and experience and lessons learned that should be occurring in an organization as large as ours."

The portal (tis.eh.doe.gov/portal) features links to databases and other systems throughout DOE, agency news, discussion forums, search tools, links to articles from national newspapers and other information.

Many federal agencies are establishing Web portals, sites through which users can get access to information and applications tailored to their individual interests. Nathaniel Palmer, senior consultant with The Delphi Group, Boston, said the DOE site is "prototypical" of how many agency portals eventually will be used.

According to Frank McCoy, deputy manager of the Savannah River Site, S.C., one of DOE's nuclear weapons plants, the portal could provide several benefits once the facility connects to it. For example, he said, Savannah River's safety program is being reviewed by DOE headquarters, which requires his staff to collect numerous drawings and copies of procedures to be delivered to inspectors.

"If we had the system in place, they would be able to access the site and search electronically for the information themselves," he said. "They would be able to accomplish their work more independently."

Before Savannah River is able to take advantage of the portal, he said, officials have to review the security of their systems and data. "That is going to be the long pole in the tent to getting this thing implemented," he said, adding that it could take up to a year.

The portal offers three levels of access with increasing levels of security. A public area provides information about DOE's community outreach programs. An area for DOE employees and contractors, requiring registration and passwords, offers customized access to internal documents, data and applications. The third area, for specially authorized users, provides access to the most sensitive documents.

Kiy said the next step will be to build a knowledge management system that will capture and organize DOE's environment, health and safety information in "a more structured form."

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