EPA launches e-docket to aid in rule-making

Agency looking at ways to make data more understandable

The Environmental Protection Agency has created an electronic docket system that agency officials think could serve as a model for similar systems at other agencies.

EPA is testing the Regulatory Public Access System, and later this month agency officials expect to unveil a full version of RPAS.

The system provides electronic access to documents used and produced as part of EPA's administrative rule-making process. EPA officials want to spur public involvement in the process and promote public access to docket materials.

'RPAS makes it easier and faster for the public to get involved in EPA's rule-making process and allows decision-makers to more quickly consider public input,' CIO Kim Nelson said.

Keep it simple

EPA plans to make documents available via RPAS within three business days of receipt.

The system is one of several EPA is working on to improve service to citizens. Another is the Window to My Environment tool, which will give Web users access to environmental data from federal, state and local agencies. EPA also has upgraded its Central Data Exchange, a system for receiving data from all levels of government.

'The real keys to the success of EPA's e-government efforts are to work closely with our partners, reduce complexity rather than add it, and make our information work for people'not the other way around,' Nelson said.

So far, RPAS includes docket information for the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, Superfund, Office of Water, and Office of Air and Radiation.

Later this year, EPA officials expect to add docket information from the Pesticide Programs Office, Pollution Prevention and Toxics Office, Environmental Information Office, and Enforcement and Compliance Activities Office.

Mark Luttner, director of EPA's Information Collection Office, said the RPAS version now on the Web, at www.epa.gov/rpas, will be changed substantially before its full rollout next month.

'There's some functionality that needs to be improved,' Luttner said. 'Some of the terminology on the site is pretty regulation-dense. People used to regulations will find it easy to figure out, but not the general public.'

To solve that problem, EPA officials plan to review and modify the RPAS pages as necessary.
Luttner added that 'some of the navigation needs to be improved.'

As it stands now, users cannot navigate the site or search for regulatory material by program office. Luttner said EPA officials expect to add those functions.

Luttner said the RPAS project is similar to the 24 high-priority projects chosen by the Office of Management and Budget as promising e-government initiatives.

The Transportation Department has operated electronic dockets for all its agencies for about five years, Luttner said, and other agencies are beginning to follow suit. 'But then they realized that RPAS is using current technology,' he said. 'The DOT system is five to six years old, and the technology gap shows.'

RPAS could be a model for other agencies' docket systems connected to the FirstGov portal, Luttner said.

Stovepipe blockade

Booz, Allen & Hamilton Inc. of McLean, Va., is developing and running RPAS. The system uses an Oracle8 Version 8.1.7 database and Documentum document management software from Documentum Inc. of Pleasanton, Calif.

RPAS resides on Sun Microsystems Enterprise 250 and Enterprise 750 servers, both located at an EPA facility in Research Triangle Park, N.C.

Luttner said the stovepiped nature of the agency deterred cooperation among the offices involved in RPAS and slowed its adoption.

The impetus for the project came from docket managers, who in 1998 began a project to centralize the agency's paper dockets. That project evolved into RPAS, Luttner said.

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