EPA CIO Levine cut his teeth on states' systems

EPA CIO Levine cut his teeth on states' systems

Working on government systems in Florida and Washington gives him experience for federal work

By Shruti Dat'

GCN Staff

After almost 25 years of managing information technology in state governments, Edwin A. Levine has jumped headfirst into the federal sector.

'I want to go from 700 to 200 data elements with coherent, rational data elements by looking at what they are collecting. You overcome stovepipesby understanding business processes.'

As deputy assistant administrator and interim chief information officer, Levine steers the Environmental Protection Agency's new Office of Environmental Information, which was established in October.

In his first weeks on the job, Levine has tried to fathom the depths of EPA's IT concerns and how to clear them.

Levine has already set a five-year benchmark for himself and his fledgling organization.

'One thing I really try to think about is how OEI should position itself, so five years from now, whatever the program offices need to protect the environment and public, our technology should support it,' said Levine, who uses the mantra, 'Technology is a means, not an end.

'It is a way to support the protection of the environment and public health,' he said.

Levine built his career molding IT to fit the business needs of the public sector in Florida and Washington state. He admitted most of his experience has been in management rather than IT, but he also bears a few scars from running an operational application.

From 1993 until he came to the EPA this spring, Levine served as policy coordinator for the office of policy and budget in Florida's Executive Office of the Governor. He was also acting chairman of the state's year 2000 task force.

Sunshine state

'I was the first person to develop an automated budgeting and appropriations system in the state of Florida,' Levine said. 'It had an interface between the accounting system and the personnel systems. What was interesting from a nontechnical view was that the customers included the Legislature and the governor.'

Levine earned a bachelor's degree in science in 1969 at Florida State University and worked in Florida government positions after receiving graduate degrees at FSU.

He left Florida for a few years to venture to the West Coast, where he was director of government affairs for the Western region of Electronic Data Systems Corp. from 1992 to 1993. For two years before that he helped write legislation to change Washington's IT management.

The government IT experience he gained in Florida and Washington is helping him tackle his new federal job, he said.

EPA created OEI to concentrate on the users' needs, he said. 'Part of the reason OEI was created was to create a central position for IT services.'

During Levine's first weeks as CIO, he called program managers to find out what they expected from OEI.

'What can I do as your supplier?' he asked them.

He has also made a commitment to visit at least half of EPA's 10 regional offices before the end of this month.

All the same

'I was the first person to develop an automated budgeting and appropriations system in the state of Florida,' Levine says.

Stovepiped systems and turf wars are part of the job'in states and the federal government, Levine said.

'There is a lot of S.O.A.P. in [Washington, D.C.], same old agonizing problems as the states,' he said.

IT shops must provide easy, reliable systems so users see the value of integration. 'It is difficult to tell someone they need to do it differently if there is no benefit to them,' he said.

Levine said he senses EPA's many programs'for clean air and water, waste and recycling'probably produce duplicative data.

Officials in EPA headquarters have asked regional offices and state partners to submit data electronically, but not in a way that is integrated with EPA's programs, he said. 'I want to go from 700 to 200 data elements with coherent, rational data elements by looking at what they are collecting,' he said.

'You overcome stovepipes not by technology but by understanding how business processes should be changed or should evolve,' he said.

Enterprise resource planning systems pique Levine's interest because they help integrate technology and business processes separated by stovepipe systems, he said.

Levine said he wants to assess whether an ERP would suit EPA. The agency is testing a human resources and payroll ERP module from PeopleSoft Inc. of Pleasanton, Calif.

EPA still feels the sting after Congress slapped its hand on Feb. 17 by shutting down its Web site for computer security breaches, Levine said.

Sitting duck

The House Commerce Committee members pulled the plug on the site after a General Accounting Office report revealed EPA's computer data and systems could be highly vulnerable to penetration, misuse or attack by unauthorized users via the Internet.

'Your agency's failures in computer security have placed at risk hundreds of millions of dollars worth of EPA computer systems and databases, as well as the resources and data of other federal and state agencies connected to EPA's systems,' committee members wrote to Administrator Carol M. Browner.

Levine acknowledges the problem.

'The GAO report talked about not a failure of EPA to understand what security was, but a failure to dot the Is and cross the Ts,' he said. 'I think the GAO's basic concern was that EPA has procedures in place but has failed to execute them. We are improving our execution.'

OEI's Office of Technology, Operations and Planning works to protect the physical network and access controls, Levine said.

The CIO must help the agency balance 'protecting the integrity of information versus protecting access,' he said.

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