EPA’s IT modernization starts with agility

EPA’s IT modernization starts with agility

“Our goal with modernization is to make sure we’re not building the next legacy system,” said Ann Dunkin, CIO of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Dunkin discussed the EPA’s modernization goals and methods, along with the agency’s march toward DevOps, core platforms, digital services and agile, modular development at a Jan. 14, AFCEA breakfast in Bethesda, Md.

The EPA is heavily focused on its operational systems, consolidating the many applications and fleet management systems already used by the agency and its partners. Dunkin explained that one road to consolidation is by creating an enterprise environment on a single platform that serves the entire regulation community for emissions reporting.

According to Dunkin, EPA is trying to do a better job of meeting the needs of those using the agency's fuel economy reporting systems and "improving their experience using our tools, as well as the experience" of the other regulators that use the EPA system.

For example, the agency worked with the Department of Transportation to create a data sharing system that streamlined the way manufacturers and agencies report and receive greenhouse gas emissions data through the Central Data Exchange.

EPA is also working with the General Services Administration’s 18F team on an Environmental Digital Services marketplace, modeled after 18F’s agile delivery service marketplace. EPA intends to attract high-quality, environmentally friendly digital services vendors who will be qualified to bid on EPA contracts.  According to Dunkin, the marketplace is  “close to being out.”

Within the agency, Duncan's team is conducting portfolio reviews that will assess all IT work, including how each office is managing its operations and tracking what is being rebuilt and retired. Dunkin said she hopes this initiative will provide a clearer picture of IT across the agency as a whole and support good digital decision-making and accountability.

However, the agency still faces challenges integrating agile budgeting with the traditional methods of the Capital Planning and Investment Control Program that govern IT investments. Because CPIC is designed around a multiyear, relatively rigid budget, it reinforces waterfall development, which makes incremental changes to a large project difficult.  “It slows us down a lot,” Dunkin said.

The multi-year aspect would be good, Dunkin said, but the EPA components "don't really treat it like two- year money" -- too often, their actual appropriations come late, and then there's a scramble to spend, lest leftover funds be reallocated. She said she would much prefer having a budget set for five years, along with the flexibility to tweak the timing of her spend as project requirements evolve. That, Dunkin explained, could support IT modernization and reduce the “waterfall” effect of locking the agency into a solution too far in advance.

And while five-year budgets, funded up front, aren't likely to come anytime soon, Dunkin is pushing where she can.  “We’re reorganizing to support all of this,” she said. “We’re really trying to realign the office with technology as it exists today and [with] the technology of the future.”

Editor's note: This article was changed Feb. 12 to clarify Dunkin's statement about EPA's goals and to correct a publishing error in which text was omitted.

About the Author

Amanda Ziadeh is a former reporter/producer for GCN.


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