EPA IT shop gets healthy boost

The Bush administration has asked Congress for $7.63 billion for the Environmental Protection Agency for fiscal 2004, with $202.3 million going to the Office of Environmental Information, home to the agency's major information technology programs.

Although the overall request represents only a $10 million boost from fiscal 2003, the IT shop came away with significantly more.

"IT increased by $42 million, which is a very significant increase," said Kim Nelson, EPA's chief information officer. "I think it's indicative of the administration's priorities, given the tight budget we have. They recognize that if agencies are going to be effective in carrying out their missions, then at the heart of that is [the] need [for] high-quality, timely information."

EPA collects an enormous amount of air, water and land data, indicators used to assess the health of the natural environment. Funding for the National Environmental Information Exchange Network, a developing Web-based system that connects the federal government with states, remained flat at $25 million.

A large portion of the IT spending "was for what we call basic infrastructure, including cybersecurity and enterprise architecture," Nelson said.

Enterprise architecture, which aligns IT investments within and across agencies, will set the foundation for initiatives under development, including a virtual emergency response situation room to improve how EPA gathers and accesses information.

"This is going to be a long time coming," she said.

Money was targeted to the agency's homeland security needs, however. "We're often called upon to be the first responder," Nelson said. For instance, EPA has taken a lead role in the cleanup of debris from the Feb. 1 disintegration of space shuttle Columbia.

The agency fared well on all five counts of the President's Management Agenda, including e-government and competitive sourcing.

"EPA exceeded its 2002 competitive sourcing goal by 20 percent and is on track to meet its 2003 goal," administration officials wrote in the budget proposal.

In September 2002, the agency awarded DynCorp a multimillion-dollar contract to manage its vast IT and telecommunications operations.

That outsourcing effort is "going very well and DynCorp is fully on board," Nelson said.

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