The EPA and
Purdue University: Reinventing Government for the People
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
if the information needed to build a richer, cleaner, healthier
environment was free, like air, water or sunlight?
is, and its free to everyone, not just the environmentalists,
lawyers, planners and engineers.
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.
effort, 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.
recent 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.
"Meeting of the Minds"
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.
products 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
showed 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
didnt 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.
Writing Made Easy
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.
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.
government 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."
Helpful Tool for Healthcare Facilities
software program is bringing about major long-term changes
in environmental health through the United States by reducing
the use and "spills" of mercury.
can 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
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.
"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
software 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
interactive 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.
1991 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 and needs.
resulting 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.
product 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.
have 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 for hotels."
programs 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.
largest 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."
EPA: Going Where No Agency Has Gone Before
response from the public to the Software for Environmental
Awareness project has been overwhelming. Why is this particular
government effort a huge success?
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
are succeeding. Other agencies can learn from their passion,
their focus on people, their use of technology and
change government forever.
can visit the Software
for Environmental Awareness Website: for further information
and to download the software programs.
may also contact Alfred Krause at USEPA Region 5, 77 W.
Jackson Blvd., P-19J, Chicago, IL 60604-3590. E-mail: email@example.com;
phone: (312) 353-5787; fax: (312) 353-3433.
Allen 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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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.