CIO who cut his teeth on state systems moves to EPA

CIO who cut his teeth on state systems moves to EPA

'IT shops must provide easy, reliable systems so users see the value of integration.'

Work on government systems in Florida and Washington prepared him for federal job, Levine says

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.

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

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

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

Five-year plan

'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 repeats 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 has built a 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 computer system.

From 1993 until he came to 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.

'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 1965 at Florida State University and worked in various 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.

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, he said.

'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 and regions, 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.

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