EPA takes portal concept to the next level

When you have a good idea, take it a step further. That’s the notion behind the Environmental Protection Agency’s effort to bundle existing projects and build a framework for the Environmental Information Integration and Portal Development project.

EPA officials started work on information portals in 1999, when they began building the Central Data Exchange as a means of transmitting data between the agency and outside organizations. The exchange serves as EPA’s node on the National Environmental Exchange Network, which links the agency with state and tribal environmental agencies as well as businesses that submit environmental data.

The EIIPD project takes the data exchange to a broader and more sophisticated level, agency officials said.

“The portal management project is an attempt to provide overall project management for a number of individual projects that were under way in EPA,” said the agency’s CIO, Kim Nelson. EIIPD merges several projects for data exchange “and builds the infrastructure one time,” she said.

“The portal project will allow us to expand our view of stakeholders to include academia, research labs, first responders and other groups,” Nelson said.

Through EIIPD, agency officials will create a single identity management and authentication process so organizations exchanging data with EPA will only have to register once.

Once they have registered and been authenticated, the users will be able to:
  • Submit new data to EPA

  • Control some aspects of data processing

  • Query data integrated across EPA programs

  • Find and use EPA data and applications

  • Present data in a personalized format.

“Identity management is the key to getting into this portal,” said Mike Cullen, director of the Office of Environmental Information’s Project Management Office. “It provides the ability for us to know who you are and then to present to you those resources for which you are authorized.”

“By doing identity management on a centralized basis you get reduced administrative costs,” Cullen said. “Instead of every program office and every application owner keeping a list of who is authorized, you do that in a centralized fashion so they don’t have to maintain that overhead.”
Users also will be able to sign on to EPA’s applications all at once, he said.

EPA officials plan to purchase the commercial EIIPD portal application this year, Cullen said. “The idealized project schedule would show us having the initial portal during the later part of fiscal 2004,” he said.

“We will just continue to add program offices on the EPA side, and then states, tribes and companies,” Cullen said. “Right now we are focusing on the basic stakeholders—states, tribes and regulated [data] reporters—not the general public.”

EPA officials say they hope eventually to link EIIPD to about 25 applications.

Jody Zuegner, identity management program manager for EIIPD at EPA’s National Computer Center in Research Triangle Park, N.C., said the agency is using Science Applications International Corp. of San Diego and Burton Group of Midvale, Utah, to plan the EIIPD.

“The different [EPA] applications will have different authentication needs,” Zuegner said. “The central infrastructure will support the full range of authentication needs.”

Zuegner said EPA officials expect to do some custom coding to tailor a vendor’s identity and access management system to their needs.

Some applications will be open to the public, others will require password security; some will require public-key infrastructure security and yet others may eventually require biometric identification, Zuegner said.

The identity management module of the system will include a directory to store information about valid users, he said.

“Once the names are there, when a user tries to access an application, [EIIPD] will have the access management infrastructure check the directory to see if this is a good user,” Zuegner said.

“Potentially, every application that EPA has could use this infrastructure,” he said. “It will take a long, long time to achieve that. The potential is to go from very visible applications to some for internal use only.”

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