EPA CIO wants better search capabilities

Although sharing data with the public is important, so is making that information easy to find, said Molly O’Neill, chief information officer at the Environmental Protection Agency.

She said that nine times out of 10 she can’t find what she’s looking for using either the agency’s search engine or Google.

“There’s so much information out there, no one can find it,” O’Neill said at an Input breakfast meeting this morning in McLean, Va.

The growing number of agency documents that are converted into digital formats and released openly on the Web, creating an ever-growing mound of data for users to sift through, is the source of the problem, she said.

At EPA, the mountain of data is divided among a number of individual search engines built for categories such as the EPA databases, Web content, electronic dockets and official records. Users must use either those category-specific engines or use what O’Neill calls the mother of all search engines, which encompasses all categories.

O’Neill said she hopes to make the most of search engine techniques such as metatagging and search ontology.

“We need strategic thinking about how people organize data around here and better search,” O’Neill said.

The latest upgrade to the EPA.gov search engine came Aug. 20. It introduced searches by subfolders, allowing users to find related articles more easily.

However, she said, the agency has yet to release any requests for proposals or information to further update the search engine.

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