EPA Simplifying Data Collection


EPA Simplifying Data Collection

By Nick Wakeman
Staff Writer

The Environmental Protection Agency wants to build a seamless information technology system that permits one-stop reporting for the companies it regulates, standardizes data collection and makes disseminating information easier.

Richard A. Bloom photo

Alvin Pesachowitz, chief information officer for EPA

EPA Administrator Carol Browner decided in July that the agency needed to improve the system for sharing data with state and local governments, said Alvin Pesachowitz, the EPA's chief information officer. Much of the information the EPA collects comes from state and local governments, but currently there is no standard way for the states to report the information.

Browner also wants the regulated companies to be able to file their reports with EPA electronically. In addition, the agency will create a data registry to standardize reporting elements.

EPA forms have more than 6,000 elements. By creating standard elements, the agency will be able to eliminate redundant collection of information, and it will make it easier to integrate the information from different forms, Pesachowitz said.

Eventually, Browner wants to create a Center for Environmental Information and Statistics, Pesachowitz said.

The agency also is taking steps to develop a one-stop electronic filing system. A pilot system is underway in 15 states, Pesachowitz said.

Building the systems needed to fulfill Browner's vision will be challenging for the agency because of the diverse and divergent groups it must interact with, Pesachowitz said at a CIO breakfast Sept. 12 sponsored by the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association.

The EPA deals with a large set of regulated industries, state, local and tribal governments and a growing number of outside groups, Pesachowitz said. EPA has to collect and disseminate data and enforce environmental regulations.

New laws add to the challenge, because "each new piece of [environmental] legislation creates a new requirement for a database system," he said.

The drive for new information systems at EPA are creating opportunities for integrators such as Science Applications International Corp. of San Diego, which won the Mission Oriented Systems Engineering Support contract, known as MOSES.

The contract has been a successful one for SAIC, which reached the $140 million ceiling in March, but was awarded a $75 million extension, said Janet Vasak, SAIC's MOSES program manager. The contract ends Dec. 31, 1998.

The agency will be issuing a request for proposals for the follow-on to that contract in February, Pesachowitz said. The new contract will be worth at least $150 million over five years, according to the market research firm Input, Vienna, Va.

In addition to SAIC, other potential bidders include Booz-Allen & Hamilton Inc., McLean, Va., and Computer Sciences Corp., El Segundo, Calif.

Like other regulatory agencies, the EPA is looking to information technology as a way of reducing red tape for the companies it regulates, said Andrew Sung, an analyst with Input.

Agencies are focusing more on performance and the end results of compliance with a regulation rather than the regulatory process and "jumping through all the hoops," Sung said.

EPA's MOSES contract establishes a Systems Development Center that develops and coordinates the building of EPA's information systems.

"It is an excellent model for other agencies to follow," Vasak said. Agencies should recognize the economies of scale that can be achieved by centralizing development, she said.

SAIC has undertaken about 100 projects for EPA, even though the agency does not require its departments to use MOSES for their IT needs, Vasak said.

"The agency is trying to provide a relatively simple way for the regulated community to file their data," Vasak said. Rather than file numerous forms with different parts of the agency, the system will allow the information to be filed in one place electronically.

"Then the different parts of the agency can just suck off what data they need," she said.

Helping drive the need for integrated information systems is EPA's changing approach to environmental regulations. Traditionally, EPA focused separately on different parts of the environment in accordance with specific laws - the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Superfund law, etc., Pesachowitz said.

"But in the last five years there has been more recognition that environmental protection can't just concentrate on a media-specific approach," he said.

EPA is looking more at how air quality impacts water, how water impacts the soil and vice versa, he said. The agency also is looking more at pollution prevention and finding ways to clean up manufacturing processes.

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