EPA and Purdue University: Reinventing Government for the People
What if the
information needed to build a richer, cleaner, healthier environment
was free, like air, water or sunlight?
It is, and
its free to everyone, not just the environmentalists, lawyers,
planners and engineers.
Americans Care About
"In September 1999, we had about 60,000 hits, 6629 extended
user sessions averaging about 8 minutes, and 426 direct downloads
(for the grant-writing software). The number of unique and
repeat users has been growing rapidly, since Yahoo! began
to link to us on any inquiry involving Federal grants."
EPA Region 5, Chicago
For more than
10 years, the Environmental Protection Agencys Region 5 in
Chicago and Purdue University have been partners, developing dozens
of free computer software programs to assist the public, business
and local government.
known as Software for Environment Awareness, has been overwhelmingly
received by all sectors of the American public. More than fifty
programs can be downloaded or run directly from the Software
for Environment Awareness website.
programs have been the object of particular interest: The first
is a tutorial on how to write grants for the EPA and for government
in general. The second focuses on how to reduce mercury in medical
facilities; it has led to an industry commitment to eliminate mercury
from the medical waste stream by the years 2005. The third is a
complete "one-stop" guide to environmental decision-making
for small communities. Each has received a particularly powerful
response. Each is a dramatic example of an idea for government whose
time has come.
of the Minds"
Late in the
1980's Alfred Krause, an Environmental Scientist at Region 5, and
Dr. Don Jones, a professor of agricultural engineering at Purdue
University, conceived the idea of creating high quality graphic
computer programs at a low cost for free public distribution. They
proposed using government internship programs to fund graduate and
undergraduate students to work on software projects that people
would find useful.
covered subjects like residential wastewater treatment, home water
conversation, and agricultural pollution prevention. The students
demonstrated considerable technical expertise and were excited about
the environmental subject matter. It was clear that the programs
could be of use to the general public, and they cost 75 to 90 percent
less than commercial products.
some of the earliest programs to his friend and supervisor, Michael
Bland, and presented some ideas on how to expand on what the students
had already accomplished. Bland immediately became enthusiastic
about the students' work.
the Project to the People
want these projects to bog down in the bureaucratic processes, to
never even be seen by the American people. He was a staunch advocate
of reinventing government -- creating a government that works better,
costs less, and gets results Americans care about. That meant cutting
red tape and embracing a new style of management, encouraging staff
to work together in a highly cooperative and mutually supportive
way. He created a new "team," now known as the Software Development
Section, to develop the technology, and do what ever it would take
to get the project to the public. The rest, as they say, is history.
One major project
of the past year , the EPA "Grant Writing Tutorial," answers
the need of many grass-roots organizations and communities who want
to apply for EPA funds, but are unfamiliar with the process.
EPA staff liked
it and several community groups who were "walked through" the program
agreed that it is very user-friendly. The tutorial, which is written
in plain language another Vice Presidential initiative --
focuses specifically on how to write a high-quality grant to apply
for EPA funds. It even provides examples of complete grant packages.
Because of emphasis on the broad underlying principles of grant
writing, the tutorial is also popular with government agencies like
the U.S. Department of Agriculture and other agencies, so much so
that many agencies are linking to the site.
insiders loved the product, but what about the public? It was a
hit -- pun intended. "In September 1999 we had about 60,000
hits, 6629 extended user sessions averaging about 8 minutes, and
426 direct downloads," said Krause. "The number of unique
and repeat users has been growing rapidly, since Yahoo! began to
link to us on any inquiry involving Federal grants."
Tool for Healthcare Facilities
program is bringing about major long-term changes in environmental
health through the United States by reducing the use and "spills"
pose a serious health threat for hospital workers, their patients,
and to our environment if it is not properly disposed of by hospital
workers. Until recently, many hospitals sent mercury-laden waste
to their incinerators, from which they would be widely spread to
air, land and water. Many animals in the food chain ingest the mercury
in the air and from other sources, such as water sediments. Other
fish or animals that prey upon them will accumulate the mercury
in even higher concentrations. We consume some of these animals
and breathe the mercury in the air. This can translate into a health
hazard for the entire human population and for our environment,
even in locations far from direct mercury discharges.
In 1993, the
EPA started working on a plan to educate health care workers about
the dangers of mercury. It wanted to assist health care facilities
with the elimination and reduction of mercury in those facilities.
In 1997 the Purdue students were called upon to create a tutorial
that informs health care professionals about the hazards of mercury.
Reduction in Hospitals Tutorial" explains the full scope of
the impact of mercury, from the healthcare facility to the environment.
It includes a "virtual hospital" (or, a simulated example of a hospital),
which allows the viewer to see the sources of mercury in the healthcare
facility and alternative sources of eliminating it. There are surveys
to determine a facility's success rate in working to reduce and
eliminate mercury. The tutorial also includes case studies on how
various health care facilities tackled the effort.
Produces a Quantum Leap in Eliminating
from Healthcare Waste Stream
program was well received by the healthcare industry. In fact, it
led to lively cooperation among EPA, the American Hospital Association,
and various environmental organizations on a national program of
mercury education for healthcare professionals. This culminated
in a 1998 agreement among the parties that commits them to the elimination
of mercury from the heathcare waste stream by 2005. This is being
done immediately on a volunteer basis, sidestepping years of costly
legislation, litigation and regulation.
the Playing Field for Small Communities
software can do great things for whole communities, as well as individuals
and businesses. Small communities face a particularly difficult
set of problems, having to cope with nearly as many environmental
needs as large cities, but with more limited resources. They lack
the numbers of planners, lawyers and engineers, so that a single
inexperienced employee may have to do the work of all three.
members of the Software Development Section had dreamed of creating
a printed or electronic product that would bring together the best
of Federal and state guidance on environmental regulation, self-evaluation,
planning and finance for small communities. In 1997 funding was
obtained from Region 5, and the Purdue students were turned loose
on a selected assortment of guides and manuals; these they translated
into a logically organized electronic form, with user-friendly notebook
features to guide uses through the evaluation of their own wants
product "Environmental Planning for Small Communities"
is available for free downloading from the Region 5 website or on
nominally priced CD-ROMs from Purdue University. It combines more
than 3000 pages of material, but leads the user on a simple logical
path to deciding the communitys wants and needs.
has been very well received, and has recently led to another major
partnership, one between USEPA and the International City/County
Management Association. ICMA is one of the largest and most prestigious
cooperative organizations for local governments in the world. ICMA
has begun to use the "Environmental planning" software
as a major feature of its Local
Government Environmental Assistance Network website and has
already distributed hundreds of free copies of the program to interested
No Stopping Now
Region 5 and the interns at Purdue have been on a 10-year roll,
and they are not about to stop now.
a wide range of new programs," said Krause, " including
a complete pesticide applicator course that can take the place of
a week of classroom instruction, a graphic tutorial on beneficial
lawn care, and a complete environmental audit and risk assessment
under development include a complete course in childrens environmental
health, a survey of the upper Mississippi basin with 3-dimensional
"flyunders" of the river, and home pesticide management
for the inner city, according to Krause.
program under development may be a "killer" application..
Its a free Internet-based universal planning engine. "We
have already completed its Phase I," Krause said. "It
will allow any small community planner to do things in an hour that
would have taken months of work a decade ago."
Going Where No Agency Has Gone Before
from the public to the Software for Environmental Awareness project
has been overwhelming. Why is this particular government effort
a huge success?
The folks at
EPA and Purdue who developed this project are passionate about their
work. They have one overriding vision to give people free
environmental products they need and can use.
They are succeeding.
Other agencies can learn from their passion, their focus on people,
their use of technology and change government forever.
You can visit
the Software for Environmental
Awareness Website: for further information and to download the
You may also
contact Alfred Krause at USEPA Region 5, 77 W. Jackson Blvd., P-19J,
Chicago, IL 60604-3590. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org;
phone: (312) 353-5787; fax: (312) 353-3433.
is an attorney and free lance writer with assignments in federal
agencies in the Washington, DC area. She is an associate member
of the Federal Communicators Network
and the Plain Language Action
Network. You may reach her at email@example.com
or (703) 553-9110.
I would like to thank all of the contributors to this article
for their information and cooperation and contributions: Interview
Participants: Michael H. Bland, Alfred E. Krause, Glynis M. Zywicki,
Ethel L. Crisp, Christine J. Urban (EPA) and Don D. Jones, Ph.D.
and the students at Purdue University.