Study says EPA needs to integrate environmental data streams

The Environmental Protection Agency needs a comprehensive, agencywide system for the data it collects from all the businesses and factories it regulates. EPA's data about the facilities it regulates is very fragmented and incomplete, leading to errors, according to a report from the National Academy of Public Administration.

EPA, each state environmental agency and each program office covering air, water and waste within the agencies separately collect and maintain the specific data needed for each set of regulations and the core information to identify each facility, said the report, released by NAPA for its Environmental Information Consortium. The group is made up of professionals from industry, public interest groups, state agencies and academia.

'As a result, regulated facilities have to report and update the same basic identification data to multiple agency programs, at multiple levels of government and at multiple times over and over again each year or more often,' the report said.

To remedy this, the EPA needs a single, shared Master File system that could identify every federally regulated facility, instead of collecting and maintaining separate sets of information in the databases for its water, air and land programs.

EPA said it has not completed its review of the recommendations. 'We have had a data standardization program under way for the past five to six years. EPA's System of Registries and the Central Data Exchange do address elements of a Master File,' said EPA Office of Environmental Information spokeswoman Diana Esanu.

EPA and the states have invested in new or upgraded systems, and some states have already developed their own integrated Master File systems. Other states are awaiting guidance from EPA so they can be assured that their plans are compatible with EPA's data systems.

EPA has established a facility identification system called the Facility Registry System, a centrally managed database of regulated facilities, but the back-end reconciliation process is still very labor-intensive and somewhat slow, the report said. It contains records for more than 1.5 million facilities and incorporates 2 million program identifiers.

A Master File would encourage adoption of uniform data elements and standards, which would enable EPA and state agencies to offer more sophisticated search capabilities. For example, Master File data could be organized and analyzed to determine which facilities located in a certain watershed area hold permits allowing them to discharge a particular pollutant.

Using EPA's AIRNow Web site as a model (airnow.gov), EPA could use the shared Master File system to integrate, aggregate and organize sets of data from all EPA and state data systems so they are always current and readily accessible.

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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