EPA opens new IT management shop

EPA opens new IT management shop

EPA's Al Pesachowitz, who will serve as interim CIO, says the agency knows what to do to improve security and data management.

One of the goals for the yet-to-be-named office is to deliver integrated data to agency decision-makers

By Shruti Dat'

GCN Staff

The Environmental Protection Agency's new information technology office will face immediate challenges in improving data management capabilities when staff members take their new posts Oct. 18.

A General Accounting Office report, Environmental Information: EPA Is Taking Steps to Improve Information Management, but Challenges Remain, and a pending Senate appropriations bill direct EPA to improve data maintenance and security.

The reorganized IT shop at EPA will concentrate on solving data management problems, said Alvin Pesachowitz, the agency's former chief information officer and present associate assistant administrator for the new office.

'Clearly we hope to address most of these issues in the new information technology office,' Pesachowitz said. 'We will work on them over the next six to 18 months. There will be a new focus on internal data quality in the central office.'

The new office, which does not yet have a formal title, will mark a change in the IT management culture at EPA. Ultimately, the goal'set out by EPA Administrator Carol Browner'is to deliver integrated data to EPA decision-makers.

The office's national program manager will control the overhaul of the agency's information management and be the agency's CIO. EPA has not yet filled that position.

'It is imperative that the EPA give top priority to addressing this management weakness,' Senate lawmakers noted in the fiscal 2000 Veterans Affairs Department, Housing and Urban Development Department and independent agencies appropriations bill.

'While EPA has taken the most important step to establishing a new information office to consolidate and provide uniformity in its approach to information management, much remains to be done,' the Senate bill concluded.

Who to call

The Senate Appropriations Committee suggested that EPA publish a semiannual agenda of information products. The bill also directs EPA to identify a contact person for each such product. Lawmakers said they want the agency to create clear policies for disclosure and to implement adequate security measures.

Pesachowitz said security will be a focal point because it has been a weakness at EPA.

The Senate also suggested that EPA receive $10 million as seed money for work with state agencies on enhancing environmental data quality through integrated systems.

GAO noted that EPA has taken initiatives to improve its data management but still has much work to do, and it seconded the congressional directives in the appropriations bill.

EPA has established three new offices to improve data management:

• The Technology, Operations and Planning Office, with director Mark Day and deputy director Beth Craig, will be responsible for EPA's day-to-day systems operations, strategic planning and security.

• The Information Collection Office, with director Mark Lutner and deputy director Wendy Cleland-Hamnett, will set records management policies and practices, oversee electronic reporting programs and lead interagency data sharing initiatives.

• The Information Analysis and Access Office, with director Elaine Stanley and deputy director Linda Traverse, will run online information dissemination programs, including the Envirofacts data warehouse and Toxics Release Inventory database.

The new IT office also will include a Data Quality Office to focus on information integrity and to deal with concerns highlighted in the legislation and report.

As associate assistant administrator, Pesachowitz will provide day-to-day support to the national program manager.

Pesachowitz will serve as the interim CIO until the program manager position is filled.

Pesachowitz said GAO has been aware of EPA's work to create the new IT office and define the commensurate responsibilities.

'These actions are not a reaction to the report but more like reactions to what EPA already needed to do,' Pesachowitz said.

In its report, GAO said the agency must accomplish three things: identify and evaluate options for filling information gaps, develop a plan detailing how the agency will standardize data elements across databases, and identify specific actions that EPA and its partners in the states must take to ensure data accuracy.

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