EPA gives paper heave-ho for hazardous waste reports

The Environmental Protection Agency has begun testing the use of digital signatures to
authenticate information received electronically from handlers of hazardous waste.


The agency recently began Phase 2 of a three-phase pilot aimed at making most of its
communications with hazardous waste handlers—those generating, transporting and
storing such waste—paperless.


The Hazardous Waste Manifest System is a set of forms, reports and procedures that EPA
uses to track hazardous waste from its generation to its final destination. The agency
verifies proper delivery and condition of the hazardous waste in transit.


EPA regulates about 20,000 large hazardous waste generators, such as chemical plants
and mines, and about 190,000 small generators, such as dry cleaners and auto shops.


Ultimately, the agency hopes the pilot will lead later this year to the development of
a prototype system, said Richard LaShier, environmental protection specialist for EPA.


The final system essentially will be a transaction medium for EPA. The agency does not
need a back-end storage subsystem because state environmental organizations, not EPA,
archive the manifests for the hazardous waste generators in their states.


A secondary benefit of doing away with paper forms is that the state agencies will
receive the data in a standard digital format, LaShier said.


To automate the tracking process, EPA began by using Gentrans:Smartforms, an electronic
data interchange package from Sterling Commerce Inc. of Dallas. During the first phase of
the program, which just ended, EPA and waste handlers routed electronic forms via a
value-added network run by Sterling.


During Phase 1, EPA asked hazardous waste handlers in three states—Illinois,
Indiana and Minnesota—to voluntarily submit their data electronically as well as on
paper.


For authentication, instead of live signatures, EPA used personal identification
numbers to test the EDI application. LaShier said the PINs were initially viewed by the
Justice Department, which participated in the pilot workgroup, as poor authentication
devices. The Justice officials were “very skeptical of PINs,” he said.


But the PINs were just for the initial phase. Because only signatures are viewed as
legally binding in cases in which a dispute arises, EPA will replace the PINs with digital
signatures, LaShier said. The agency will now test digital signatures in Phase 2.


To make Gentrans:Smartforms work for its program, EPA asked Sterling to modify it. The
app, like many digital signature products, had space for only one digital signature on
each manifest form, LaShier said. EPA needed an electronic form that allowed for multiple
signatures, for all the parties handling the waste.


Sterling Commerce reworked its product accordingly. So far, so good. But now EPA had a
system that required handlers to use a specific product, the Sterling software, and a
specific VAN. The system was too closed, LaShier said.


So in November EPA turned to Sparta Inc. The Laguna Hills, Calif., company is modifying
its SecurEC product to make it compatible with Sterling’s Gentrans:Smartforms.
SecurEC already permits multiple digital signatures on a single manifest. Now, handlers
have a choice of at least two EDI packages.


“By spring we hope to be well under way and run a three-month test” using
both products, LaShier said.


To further open the system, the EPA during the final phase will also begin allowing
transmissions via the Internet, not just the VAN.


“Those processing large amounts of manifests will want to use a VAN for the
security and efficiency,” LaShier said. But small and medium users will probably want
to use the Web, he said.


Sparta does not yet know if EPA wants to integrate SecurEC into a Web system by using
e-mail or by uploading and downloading data from the Web, said Robert Kinney, Sr., a vice
president with Sparta’s SecurEC division.


So far, EPA has spent about $200,000, including support costs, for the first two
pilots, LaShier said.


EPA selected one of the more basic EDI packages because that was all the agency needed,
he said.


Some EDI products run as high as $2,000 a package, but EPA paid only $495 for
Gentrans:Smartforms, LaShier said. “We spent a little bit more to have them customize
it,” he said.


Sparta’s SecurEC is available for about $1,750 through General Services
Administration schedule contracts, Kinney said. EPA, however, had Sparta sign on as a
subcontractor to DPRA Inc., a Manhattan, Kan., company that is helping EPA with the pilot.


“Sparta’s product has two main features: data encryption, which EPA
wasn’t interested in, and digital signatures, which it was, Kinney said.  
 

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