EPA looks to unify states with CDX

Portal being tested in seven states will combine reporting systems for state environmental data

The Environmental Protection Agency’s Information Collection Office, which is managing the rollout and expansion of the agency's Central Data Exchange (CDX) portal, knows the Web is the route to take for the portal’s next step. Now, the agency is looking for the right technology to pave the way.

CDX accommodates several flows of environmental information into EPA, mainly from state agencies. Over the next few years, officials plan to incorporate more EPA data flows into the portal, until it will serve about 50 programs.

CDX managers Mark Luttner, director of the Information Collection Office, and Connie Dwyer, chief of the office’s CDX branch, are overseeing the conversion of CDX operations.

The Logistics Management Institute of McLean, Va., was the first contractor to work on the project. Computer Sciences Corp. took over in April under a $300 million task order via the General Services Administration's Millenia program.

CDX forms EPA’s node on a planned national network for exchanging environmental information. The system is designed to accept data in electronic and paper formats and channel it to the databases of program offices within EPA.

Eventually, CDX will make data from EPA's legacy systems available to users at state agencies.

“The general proposition is that CDX will become the reporting gateway or portal for the agency,” Luttner said.

Unified reporting method

The agency plans to gradually phase out the separate reporting methods used by its various programs.

Achieving that goal will require greater business-to-business computing assets, Luttner said.

“We are now looking at four large packages to build CDX,” Dwyer said. They are IBM WebSphere, BEA Weblogic from BEA Systems Inc. of San Jose, Calif., webMethods from webMethods Inc. of Fairfax, Va., and SeeBeyond from SeeBeyond Technology Corp. of Monrovia, Calif. The packages combine operation of the portal with application integration, she said.

EPA has launched pilot nodes in cooperation with government agencies in Del-aware, Maine, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico and Utah to support business-to-business transactions.

EPA is working with the seven states to develop standards for Web services that will be delivered by network nodes. The Web services comprise information sources and application components that use emerging Web technology standards such as:
  • Extensible Markup Language

  • Simple Object Access Protocol

  • Universal Description Discovery and Integration

  • Web Service Description Language

  • Web Service Security

  • Hypertext Transfer Protocol.

The Web services standards allow computer-to-computer links without regard to platform or language, according to EPA.

CDX managers and EPA officials are developing a how-to guide for states to use as they build network nodes, a network exchange protocol and functional specifications for the nodes.

The beta versions of the state nodes use as middleware Microsoft BizTalk 2000 and SOAP Toolkit, Oracle9i Application Server with Java Developer or XAWare from XAWare Inc. in Colorado Springs, Colo. The middleware will connect state and EPA systems using Microsoft SQL Server 2000, Oracle8i and 9i, IBM's DB2 or Tempo from American Management Systems Inc. of Fairfax, Va.

EPA officials said they want to be consistent with the emerging Web services standards and avoid customizing the systems. They expect to have draft specifications for the Web services functions of CDX by next month.

A final version will be released early next year, because state agencies will need the specification to build their data flows.

Dwyer said the push to adopt CDX is driven partly by the Government Paperwork Elimination Act, which is aimed at promoting electronic submission of information to federal agencies.

“In 2003 and 2004, we will adopt about a dozen [more] data flows,” Luttner said.

“You have to work with the program office and negotiate a process” for the data to enter EPA via CDX, Dwyer said.

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