EPA puts mobile first under new policy

The Environmental Protection Agency has adopted an interim “Mobile First” policy, effective immediately, according to EPA Chief Information Officer Malcolm Jackson.

Jackson, speaking at the Social Business for Government Summit in Washington, D.C. on March 20, said he had signed the interim policy order that same day.

Under the policy, the EPA, when developing new applications, will make mobile websites and Web-enabled mobile applications a priority in communicating with the public and EPA employees, in comparison to other types of applications, Jackson said.

“From this point on, for citizens and employees, we will do an application for mobile first, and then for personal computers and laptops,” Jackson said. “We are encouraging development of apps for the EPA that are mobile first.”

The reason for the new policy is to reflect the rising popularity of mobile devices and the trend for some young people to own mobile phones without owning computers, Jackson said.

“I’ll tell you why we are doing it—a lot of people cannot afford personal computers or Internet service,” Jackson said. “But they can afford smart phones, and they do not leave home without them.”

Jackson said the EPA’s approach is platform agnostic and will  focus on Web-enabled mobile apps and on websites designed for mobile devices of all types.

The EPA expects to roll out tablet computers for its field employees later this year, Jackson added.

“EPA has a long history of early adoption,” Jackson said, pointing to the agency's use of Facebook, Twitter, wikis, blogs, Ideascale dialogs and its recent Apps for the Environment contest, among other social tools.

At the same time, he has had to push EPA employees to change their work styles to become more collaborative and social, while also preparing new ways to oversee and monitor their work. To help employees manage the changes, “you have to identify the benefits for them,” Jackson said.

EPA currently is using social media to reach out to more stakeholders and expand collaboration with them, improve decision-making at the agency and provide the public with better information, Jackson said.

Online dialogs with thousands of people with a stake in environmental concerns and with different skills and views is “a tremendous asset for us,” Jackson said. The two-way communications occur on EPA blogs, wikis and social networks and “will lead to better understanding of environmental problems and conditions,” he added.

The social government summit was presented by Federal Computer Week and sponsored by IBM Corp.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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