E-mail app washes away Florida red tape

E-mail app washes away Florida red tape

For more details on E-Correspondence, contact:

Richard Lott, P.G., P.E.

Program Manager, Drinking Water

Florida Environmental Protection Department

3319 Maguire Blvd., Suite 232

Orlando, Fla. 32803

407-893-3325

Richard.Lott@dep.state.fl.us

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Engineer Richard Lott and his colleagues at Florida's Environmental Protection Department slashed the regulatory costs of water treatment plants by adopting electronic correspondence.

Permits, letters and other documents between applicant and environmental protection agency save time, money

With a single stroke of a computer key, Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) secretary David Struhs sent the department's first electronic permit on Feb. 7. This initiative launched a new era of issuing documents electronically that saves time, money and tons of paper for the state and permit applicants.

The department's Electronic Correspondence program is the pilot project in the DEP Central District to issue both letters and permits electronically rather than by postal mail. The project is limited to the electronic transferral of documents relating to water main extensions and water treatment plants in the drinking water program.

The permit applications usually do not cause public controversy. The district issues about 1,000 drinking water permits each year. In the past, the permit process consumed mountains of paper and took about 40 days.

Make it easy

The legal authority of E-Correspondence is the Florida Electronic Signature Act of 1996. The main purposes of this act were to develop electronic commerce with the use of electronic signatures and ease the electronic delivery of government services.

The law mandates that an electronic signature has the same legal force as a written signature. It also directs each state agency to adopt and implement procedures that will ensure the security, confidentiality and auditability of electronic commerce.

To participate in the program, a permit applicant must be willing to receive the documents electronically and have either a fax machine or e-mail address. Permit applicants who do not want to participate in E-Correspondence can receive the paperwork via postal mail.

Last December, the department sent more than 300 letters to the major water utilities and engineering firms in the Central District, advising them of the pilot project and asking for cooperation.

The utilities and engineering firms responded so positively that the possibility of extending E-Correspondence to the other programs within DEP became clear.

In the E-Correspondence process, the permit is sent as an attachment to an e-mail that asks for a receipt from the applicant. A log records the time and date the document is received. Documents are signed and filed electronically using a Graphire tablet from Wacom Technology Co. of Japan.

Just before the documents are sent, the system saves them as Adobe Portable Document Format files. The PDF files provide security because they are read-only files. The department bought two Graphire tablets and two copies of Adobe Acrobat Writer for $600. No additional personnel were required for this program.

The Central District Drinking Water Program conservatively estimates that the E-Correspondence program will generate annual cost savings of more than $5,000 in postage, $1,000 in materials and $6,500 in labor, for a total annual cost savings of $12,500.

All join in

Based on the early success of E-Correspondence, other programs within the Central District, including the air, groundwater, industrial waste, wastewater, wetlands, stormwater, and solid and hazardous waste offices, also began sending documents electronically in February.

These programs likely will save a total of $20,000 annually by using E-Correspondence.

Just as important are savings to the applicant. Applicants save time because there is no delay in waiting for the documents to arrive in the postal mail. This allows the applicant to respond quickly to any questions or concerns the DEP may have and further reduce the turnaround time to obtain a permit.

Project reviews show that this year, E-Correspondence has decreased average permitting time by 15 percent from 40 to 34 days. In addition, eliminating the mail delay lets builders begin construction almost as soon as the department approves their permits.

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