Dec 31 2009

Closing the Data Gap

The new EPA-state Exchange Network shifts the information management paradigm, increasing collaboration and facilitating innovation.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA),
state environmental departments and tribal nations
are partnering in the development of a new National
Environmental Information Exchange Network that
supports standards-based, secure data exchange among
government agencies. Built on conventional e-commerce
principles—applying data standards, providing secure real-time
network access, and electronically collecting and storing information—
the Exchange Network will replace or complement conventional
government methods of exchanging important environmental data.

Until now, states sent environmental data to several EPA systems
in various ways, including directly from users or through electronic
flat files. Via an automated mechanism, the Exchange Network
provides timelier, more efficient and higher-quality data exchanges.

It also establishes an architecture that
expands the universe of data that can be
exchanged between federal and state
agencies. This is especially important when
agencies need to share data they did not
previously exchange, such as health-related
information shared among environmental
and health agencies. In addition, states will
be able to share and integrate their data with
other states to address regional needs, such
as water quality throughout a regional
watershed or air quality throughout a region.

Seeds for the Exchange Network were
sown in 1998, when the Environmental
Council of the States (ECOS) and EPA made
a commitment to improve information
management practices. This commitment
was driven by changing information needs,
inefficient information exchange processes,
growing data integrity problems, rising
system maintenance costs, decreasing
budgets, advancing information technology,
increasing needs to provide rapid data access
to environmental agencies and the public,
and growing e-commerce expectations.

Responding to EPA's One-Stop Program
(a predecessor to the Exchange Network that
provided grant and coordination support to
leading states in information management
integration), the agency and interested states
established an Information Management
Workgroup (IMWG). EPA also centralized
IT and management efforts by creating the
Office of Environmental Information.
These two organizations provided critical
support for shaping both the Exchange
Network and a new paradigm of federal
and state information management.

In July 2000, the IMWG formed a
team to develop a "Blueprint for a National
Environmental Exchange Network," which

would impart the conceptual design. By
October, the team had proposed and
received approval for the project.

In February 2001, the IMWG chartered
an interim steering group to guide the
Exchange Network's development and
implementation. In early 2002, with the
implementation plan complete, the IMWG
chartered a network steering board to
oversee the Exchange Network's creation.

The Exchange Network is built on the
philosophy that data should reside as close
to its source as possible to maintain the
highest degree of data quality. It uses Data
Exchange Templates, Extensible Markup
Language schemas, open data standards and
data sharing agreements to ensure that data
integrity is maintained. The agreements
define data needs and establish standards for
data transmission, receipt and integration.

EPA's Environmental Information
Exchange Network Grant Program is
facilitating the Exchange Network's
development. It began in 2002 by awarding
states, tribal nations, Puerto Rico and ECOS
$25 million in assessment, readiness and
challenge grants. In 2003, states, tribes and
ECOS received $19 million from the
program. This year, $20 million will flow to
the Exchange Network to build on existing
activities and to leverage collaboration in
environmental and health arenas.

Currently, the Central Data Exchange
(CDX), an Exchange Network component
and EPA's central mechanism for electronic
reporting data exchange, collaborates with
seven EPA program offices: Air and
Radiation, Enforcement and Compliance
Assurance, Environmental Information,
Pollution Prevention and Toxics, Solid
Waste, Emergency Response and Water.

Delaware, Maine, Mississippi, Nebraska,
New Hampshire, New Mexico and Utah
joined with EPA to coordinate the
development and evolution of standard node
configurations to support various technology
platforms and promote interoperability.
EPA's node on the network is supported by
CDX, which combines Web services and
security protocols to interact and transact
network business with state partners.

By facilitating communication of
environmental data among all levels of
government and the public, the Exchange
Network is revolutionizing the way data is
exchanged by EPA and state, tribal and
territorial partners. As of May 2004,
nine states—Kansas, Mississippi, New
Hampshire, Ohio, Oregon, South Carolina,
Washington, West Virginia and
Wisconsin—trade facility data with EPA.

Michigan is the first state to use the
Exchange Network to implement an
entirely automated data exchange of
Wastewater Discharge Monitoring Reports
(DMR) from its regulated facilities to the
Michigan Department of Environmental
Quality to the EPA's Permit Compliance
System. Collecting data on DMRs, which
historically has been a complex state-to-EPA transaction, is now being streamlined
by the exchange process, known as an
electronic DMR, or eDMR. Michigan's
successful progress will be a model for other
states to follow in their eDMR transactions.

Through this year, the Exchange
Network will continue to grow: 35 state
nodes are expected to be operating by late
2004. The Exchange Network team is also
developing a model for future regional
exchanges with the Chesapeake Bay
Program and several other regional

The Exchange Network represents more
than just putting the latest technologies to
work to increase communication among
EPA and its partners. It marks the beginning
of a historic transition from the "data push"
era to an era in which data resides at its source
and can be accessed by those who need it,
from anywhere, whenever the need arises.

DISCLAIMER: The information provided
in this article does not constitute an
endorsement by the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency of any non-federal entity,
its products or its services.

States Implementing the Network Design

The Central Data Exchange
is the point of entry for
environmental data
submissions to the U.S.
Environmental Protection
Agency and serves as
EPA's connection to the
Environmental Information
Exchange Network.

Testing/Developing Stage: ME, VT, NY, PA, DC, DE, NJ, VA, NC, GA, FL, LA, TX, OK, MO, KY, IL, IN, NE, CO, NM, AZ, UT, ID, CA, AK, and HI.

Operational Stage: WA, OR, KS, WI, MI, OH, WV, MS, SC, NH, and RI.

SOURCE: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Environmental Information, May 2004.

Bob Zimmerman is Co-Chair of the
Exchange Network Steering Board,
Office of the Secretary, Delaware
Department of Natural Resources
and Environmental Control.

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