EPA seeks a portal for its data

Borrowing from a successful portal for managing state and manufacturer environmental data, the Environmental Protection Agency plans to develop a portal to track the data agencywide.

As an element of the agency's enterprise architecture, EPA officials have documented the central systems used to manage data, said Mike Cullen, director of the EPA's Program Management Office. As part of the portal project, agency officials plan to create a single portal accessible to all agency offices and state and regional partners.

Officials want the site to become the sole source of EPA data and to feature environmental information published by the EPA and submitted by outside agencies.

Agency officials hope that having a single site will eliminate redundancies and streamline the information-sharing process. The portal will also coordinate program management within the EPA and allow collection of information technology talent across the organization.

The project is in its early stages and does not yet have a final name.

Since January, the agency's newly established Program Management Office, an extension of the EPA's Office of Environmental Information, has been developing the plan for the Environmental Information Integration and Portal Development Project.

Officials already changed that cumbersome title to EPA's Portal Project, and it is expected to have a much catchier title before its launch.

EPA officials feel that the project's benefits will be easy to identify when it reaches the implementation stage, within two years.

"I think it's a good idea for EPA," Cullen said. There was some recognition in OEI that they needed to take a more holistic approach toward managing IT."

Cullen, who assumed leadership of the Program Management Office in March, said the EPA has given the project high priority, which the agency's chief information officer emphasized.

"Certainly this is a priority," said EPA CIO Kimberly Nelson. "At the top, we think this is an important component of the President's Management Agenda and it's also important to the President's [e-government] initiative."

EPA officials have not issued a contract for the portal, but they have set a project timetable that includes prototype completion in fiscal 2004, Cullen said.

To begin the transition toward new business procedures, the EPA gathered various program managers this spring for an information session. Cullen feels their input is crucial to gain acceptance of new informational methods.

When fully operational, the system will serve a diverse group of users. In addition to intra-agency groups, other users will include states performing environmental research; regional initiatives, such as those to protect the Chesapeake Bay and Great Lakes, that deal with multiple state offices; on-site project coordinators in the field; individuals working on research grants; and other federal agencies.

"One of the things we realized is that we could go about this in one of two ways," said Bob Gunter, associate director of the Program Management Office. "Either let the [Office of Management and Budget] drive us and make the decisions, or be proactive and try to reach their goals of eliminating redundancy and developing enterprising architecture."

"We decided to be proactive," he said.

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