Just the eFACTS

Pennsylvania has given rights to one of its more head-turning applications to Compaq Computer Corp. so the company can sell it to other states.

Shortly after the state's Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) debuted eFACTS (www.dep.state.pa.us/efacts), a Web site where people can track the status of environmental permits, officials were bombarded with calls from government techies asking how they could launch a similar site.

The application stands out because it makes investigating environmental permits a notoriously difficult chore something any layman can handle.

Most environment departments separate permits according to air, water or waste, so it had been almost impossible for officials or citizens to look at a property and assess its standing with all permits. Now, eFACTS brings together the once-disparate databases and enables users to search according to such categories as owners, companies or cities.

Pennsylvania's eFACTS is one of only a handful of integrated DEP systems, and it was the first to be put on the Web so others could use it. In addition to tracking permits, people can check inspections, see if violations were found and see what companies must do about violations and by what date.

Just recently, eFACTS expanded with the creation of eNOTICE, a service that enables people to sign up and receive e-mail notification of action on any type of permits that interest them. More than 1,000 people have signed up.

"It lets the public know what's happening in their back yard," said Kim Nelson, the executive deputy secretary of Pennsylvania's DEP. "There's no other DEP in the country that provides that kind of information to citizens."

When eFACTS hit the World Wide Web in 1999, Nelson became so inundated with calls from other governments about the system that she held an open house on it. Representatives from 35 states attended. The clamor for information began to interfere with her job, and that's when she decided to approach Compaq.

Although the state's top officials made it clear that the state wasn't out to get into the software-selling business or to profit from the application Nelson cut a deal with the company in which Compaq would take ownership of eFACTS, but Pennsylvania would get $250,000 in Compaq service and maintenance for every sale. Nelson chose Compaq because it was the company DEP originally hired to help develop the system.

"Hopefully, this will help sister agencies so they don't have to start from scratch," Nelson said of the deal, announced July 19. He said they would have given out the software for free, but governments need a company like Compaq to set up a system as complex as eFACTS. She compared it to building a house: "It wouldn't be much help if somebody throws a pile of bricks and lumber onto your front lawn."

Sherry Walshak, Compaq's director of state and local government markets, said the eFACTS deal shows that, unlike corporations, governments don't need to compete. "This market is so about collaboration," she said. "It's all about sharing best practices."

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