Fish Story

Fish Story

Service acts fast to build Web app for compliance

BY PATRICIA DAUKANTAS | GCN STAFF

The National Marine Fisheries Service is developing several interactive Web applications, including one for people who might be affected by enforcement of the Endangered Species Act.

Larry Tyminski and Jim Sargent
National Marine Fisheries Service CIO Larry Tyminski, left, and deputy CIO Jim Sargent create Web apps for their diverse bureau.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration bureau, known as NOAA Fisheries, took the Permit Consultation Tracking System live late last month at www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pcts. The Web application lets constituents of so-called Section 7 consultations check the status of the consultation process.

Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act requires that federal agencies conducting operations that could affect threatened or endangered species notify either the Fish and Wildlife Service or NOAA Fisheries, depending on whether the species live mostly on land or in water.

Commerce Secretary Donald L. Evans sparked the project in early May, said Larry Tyminski, chief information officer of NOAA Fisheries. After Evans talked with personnel at the bureau's Northwest Regional Office in Seattle, the Commerce CIO's office asked the NOAA Fisheries application development team to build the site as quickly as possible.

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'This was a real opportunity for us,' said Jim Sargent, deputy CIO for special projects.

'We got some fabulous feedback from the department regarding our ability to respond so quickly,' Tyminski said.

Although the main PCTS Web site isn't password-protected, prospective users must enter a permit number to find out anything useful about that permit, Sargent said.

A password-protected management report section shows bureau managers the status of all consultations under way and helps them improve internal business processes, Tyminski said.

Bluefin'cast away

The permit system runs on Sun Microsystems Enterprise 3500 servers at NOAA headquarters in Silver Spring, Md. The developers used Oracle Corp.'s PL/SQL language to customize the site's Oracle8i database, Tyminski said.

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'It was a lot of fun,' Sargent said of the lightning development process. 'The enthusiasm was very high.'

Following the success of the bureau's online shop for Atlantic bluefin tuna fishing permits [GCN, Aug. 21, 2000, Page 51], NOAA Fisheries is considering expanding online sales to other types of permits, Tyminski said. He is organizing a group in the bureau to find ways to simplify constituents' online experiences.

The permit systems were originally developed in stovepipe mode because of the bureau's regional orientation. 'We have Atlantic cod in the Northeast, but we don't have it in the Northwest,' Sargent said. But the business process with the public is basically the same, no matter what the permit.

This summer NOAA Fisheries is increasing the number of Web training courses it offers employees to about 300, Tyminski said.

'We've found it's an excellent way to establish an agencywide training program in a geographically diverse agency,' he said.

Sargent said he and Tyminski talked to 1,000 bureau employees and found many of them felt intimidated by the fast pace of technological change.

Smart Force Inc. of Redwood City, Calif., provides the training courses, and NOAA Fisheries users link to the company Web site through the bureau intranet.

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Web courses include networking certification, database administration and project management, Tyminski said. The site also offers online mentoring.

A single networking certification course costs $1,500 to $2,000 per student, Tyminski said, but a flat fee can make the online training available to many workers at once.

The bureau also is considering Internet-based rule-making, Sargent said. NOAA Fisheries is the third or fourth largest rule-making organization within the federal government.

Under current policy, the bureau accepts only hard-copy comments because of concerns about spam on controversial issues, Sargent said. In the pilot, scheduled to start later this year, the public will be able to comment on a Web form, and their comments will go into an Oracle database for study. The pilot will start with just one rule, Tyminski said.

Bows to experience

Sargent serves as project manager for the rule-making pilot because of his 22 years of experience in the bureau, Tyminski said.

NOAA Fisheries officials are talking with other rule-making agencies, such as the Transportation Department, to learn from their experiences, Tyminski said. Transportation has had an electronic Docket Management System since 1996 [GCN, Oct. 16, 2000, Page 9].

'I've become a great proponent of [public] rule-making in general,' Sargent said. 'It's the way the public can really have an impact on laws.'

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Federal officials don't yet understand the impact of technology on the process, Tyminski said. 'This could dramatically increase the number of comments we get,' he said.

'We have to make sure that our analysis tools can handle this before we crack it wide open,' Sargent said.

As part of a NOAA-wide initiative, NOAA Fisheries has nearly completed its consolidation of e-mail systems, Tyminski said. The agency standardized on Netscape Mail from Netscape Communications Corp.

Tyminski, who has been with NOAA Fisheries a year, reports to NOAA's CIO, Thomas Pyke, who is presently acting CIO for the Commerce Department.

Since joining the bureau, Tyminski has set up a national information management board of NOAA Fisheries officials at the deputy director level to set technology policies for the organization.

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