Network mellows federal-state relationships

The Environmental Protection Agency's Environmental Information Exchange Network has not only improved data sharing with state environmental agencies, it has helped assuage the sometimes strained relationships between EPA and the state agencies.

'It's been a difficult history in many cases over the years because most of the programs are run at the state level but there is still EPA oversight and enforcement going on,' said Mark Luttner, director of EPA's Office of Information Collection.

In fact, EPA's traditional approach to states might be characterized as imperious rather than solicitous.

'You don't see much collaboration in a lot of EPA programs,' he said. 'It's more, 'States, you will do this and you will do it this way.' So in the program areas, like water, air or waste, the relations can be pretty strained between EPA and the states.'

But things had to be different with the effort to improve data sharing through the network.

'We knew that [collaboration] was going to be critical because you're talking about distinct government agencies doing business with each other,' Luttner said. 'Information management is much more of a collaborative environment. We all just recognize that this is about good government and efficiency. We approached this very much in partnership mode.'

The network's synergetic governance structure, designed to ensure a common policy, technical and operational approach to running the network, teams up EPA and state officials on its board, workgroups and action teams.

That represents a significant change in the command and control attitude that has characterized EPA's data collection relationship with the states, EPA officials have said.

'Collaboration is the name of the game,' Luttner said.

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