open government

What EPA Data are Important to You?

By Malcolm D. Jackson

In May 2012, the White House released the Digital Government Strategy. This document outlines how all federal government agencies will work to make information and services easily accessible on the internet anytime, anywhere, and on any device. This means you will be able to find and share information that is important to you and your family, as well as tell us your ideas.

Here at EPA, we are working to make our data and information available to you. You can search our datasets on Data.gov, participate and share your ideas at our discussion forum, and learn about our programs at our website and our social media sites.

Part of the Digital Government Strategy is to ask you what EPA information and services are most important. Here are the questions we need your help on:

  • Today we’re always on the go and often need to access information on our mobile devices whenever, wherever. At EPA, we’re working to make it easier for you to access our information and data on your mobile phones, tablets, and other devices. But, we need your help. What EPA information would you like to be able to access on mobile devices?
  • In addition to bringing more information to you via mobile devices, we’re working to make more of our information and data available via APIs (application programming interface). Making our data available via APIs will allow the public to use our data and incorporate it into other websites and applications. We already have an APIs for our Envirofacts database. What EPA information, data, or applications would you like to us make available via API?

Please share your answers in the comments below. You can read more about how we are participating in the Digital Government Strategy and Open Government at our website.

About the author: Malcolm D. Jackson is EPA’s Assistant Administrator for the Office of Environmental Information and Chief Information Officer.is responsible for IT operations and security, information quality and collection, and access to environmental information.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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HERO saves the “dataholic” – On-demand data!

It was nearly three years ago when I met with scientists in EPA’s Office of Research and Development about “modernizing” their processes for producing science assessment documents. I remember that first meeting well — the table was piled high with huge documents with hundreds of word-processing tables representing data from published scientific journal articles, and many file cabinets full of associated paper reprints — and asked, “how do we make this into a database?”

My name is Ellen, and I am a “dataholic.” Although admittedly a dataholic, it was clear to even “non-dataholics” that this was a project ripe for an overhaul. With last week’s launch of the Health and Environmental Research Online (HERO) database,  scientists have an efficient way to identify the science available to produce these documents.

Modernizing the science assessment process had another bonus – it enabled easy access to the science used to inform EPA’s decision-making in a way not possible when the research was tucked in file drawers and buried in reams of tables. We threw in another bonus — thanks to the hyperlink model of the World Wide Web.

It took some adjustment to get used to those blue links throughout the documents. This paradigm shift highlights a major effort on the part of EPA to give open access to the data used. While reading an assessment, these direct links allow the reader immediate access to bibliographic information and summaries of the science used in each assessment. (Go to http://www.epa.gov/iris/subst/0286.htm to see an example.) Teams of expert scientists use expanded versions of this same information to distill the knowledge into a finished assessment. It’s like having a thousand documents standing right behind the assessments, with on-demand viewing capabilities, ready to be understood by other scientists and the public.

The project that was conceived to convert a paper process to a digital one has found a natural fit with the Administration’s initiative for Open Government. HERO is designed to put into practice this commitment to transparency by sharing the research, methodologies and guidelines that inform the risk assessment process. EPA uses risk assessments to characterize the nature and magnitude of health risks to humans and the ecosystem from pollutants and chemicals in the environment.

“Giving the public easy access to the same information EPA uses will help open the lines of communication, increase knowledge and understanding, and open the doors of EPA,” said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson when HERO was announced.

This is an exciting time to be a “dataholic” at the EPA.

About the author: Ellen Lorang is project lead for HERO (http://epa.gov/hero) in EPA’s National Center for Environmental Assessment. This blog is part of an ongoing series about the EPA’s efforts toward the Open Government Directive that lays out the Obama Administration’s commitment to Open Government and the principles of transparency, participation and collaboration.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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AIRNow: The Power of Partnerships

Earlier today, I posted a picture of a guy named Bill Ryan to EPA’s AIRNow Facebook page. Bill teaches air quality forecasting at Penn State University, and he’s been a big supporter over the years as EPA has worked to share air quality information with people all across the United States. Last week, we named him the 2010 AIRNow Partner of the Year.

As I was uploading Bill’s picture, it struck me: the great partnerships we have in the AIRNow program, combined with today’s technology, have created powerful tools for letting all of us know what we’re breathing right now – and what tomorrow’s air quality could mean for us.

EPA launched AIRNow.gov nearly 12 years ago, building off a mapping program started by EPA’s New England office to share real-time information about ozone pollution. As technology and our partnerships have expanded, so have the ways you find out about air quality where you live.

Today, in the Research Triangle, N.C., area where I work, I can get air quality forecasts pretty much any way you can imagine: on the AIRNow Web site, on local TV, from a state telephone hotline, in my local newspaper, or through EnviroFlash e-mails or tweets. If ozone or particle pollution levels are high, I can quickly find out how I can protect my health. And I can get a list of simple steps to take to help improve air quality where I live.

So can you! AIRNow forcasts and real-time data are available for more than 300 cities across the country. The engine behind this info is powered by more than 170 state, local and federal partners – all committed to sharing monitoring data and information so you can make decisions that affect your daily lives.

Every day, all year, our partner agencies feed real-time air quality data and forecasts to the AIRNow system. We send it back out to weather service providers and to national media such as the Weather Channel and USA Today. The National Weather Service uses the data in the air quality models it makes available to state and local forecasters, like Bill Ryan, who start the process all over again.

My local air quality forecast for Tuesday is Code Green – or good – for both ozone and particle pollution. What’s yours?

About the author: Alison Davis is a Sr. Advisor for Public Affairs in EPA’s Office of Air Quality Planning & Standards. This blog is part of an ongoing series about the EPA’s efforts toward the Open Government Directive that lays out the Obama Administration’s commitment to Open Government and the principles of transparency, participation and collaboration.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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C’mon, Give Yourself an Environmental Shout Out!

About 4 years ago, we decided to start a hiking club.  We have an autistic son and before we knew about all the family-oriented activities out there for autistic kids, we didn’t know what we could do.  We wanted something that would involve the whole family – parents, autistic kids, and their typically developing siblings – in an environment where everyone could relax and not worry about being judged by others.  Thus was born the Trophies Hike Club.  Every Sunday at 10 a.m., we meet in the parking lot or visitor center of one of many parks in the area.

We now have a group of 5-6 families (and 5-6 dogs!) that venture out every weekend — rain or shine — and it’s been a fabulous tradition that has grown with us.  Hike club has been a perfect venue to teach the kids some important things…respect wildlife, be fascinated by the impact of the changing seasons and the changing courses of the waterways and trails, not littering, and generally respecting each other and the folks, plants and animals we encounter on our walks.

We are planning to order water quality sampling kits (because what kid wouldn’t want to step into a muddy stream, plant a mesh leaf bag in order to later retrieve it and inspect the creepy crawlers that may be found within).  We also pick up litter as we go.  Are we environmentalists?  Maybe.  But let’s step this up a notch: what if we had a way to share our activities with others – inspire others with the idea of our hiking club?  And also give the kids kudos by announcing their forays into the forest on the World Wide Web.

Well, now we do have a way – environmental shout outs in EPA’s MyEnvironment.  A couple of weeks ago, we added the capability for the public to report their “good-for-the-environment” activities within the context of MyEnvironment.  We hear about folks buying their first composter, local all-green salons, Boy Scout river cleanups, and much more.  MyEnvironment was a way for the public to find environmental information about their neighborhood.  Now they will find out not just what the EPA is doing in their community, but also what the community is doing in their community.  That’s open government.

About the author: Kim Balassiano has worked in EPA’s Office of Environmental Information since 2007. Before that, she was an EPA contractor for 12 years, doing mapping and spatial analysis.  This blog is part of an ongoing series about the EPA’s efforts toward the Open Government Directive that lays out the Obama Administration’s commitment to Open Government and the principles of transparency, participation and collaboration.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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In the Trenches: Moderation for OpenGov

I’m a 20 year EPA staffer and Computer Specialist doing much more than computers these days. One of my tasks is to help moderate comments that come in to the EPA’s Open Government discussion forum.

I’ve quickly come to realize that moderating comments in the public arena, especially in these sometimes politically-charged times, requires a curious mixture of patience, firmness and humor.

  • Patience: Like our favorite teachers and professors from education, sometimes we have to let folks submit their opinions about issues that are important to them, even when they are off the topic of discussion. It’s very important to guide them toward translating that energy into ‘do-able’ suggestions so that we can include them in our Open Government Plan, if possible. Early on, we decided to allow some latitude to ensure transparency and participation in the process.
  • Firmness: When we encountered wrong information, not just opinion, we tried to provide correct information, and this was mostly well received. The forum has published Terms of Participation, and the only times we’ve moved ideas to the “off topic” area, or removed comments from the forum, was most likely because of this. We recorded all of these actions to preserve all input.
  • Humor: Occasionally I come across a comment that is “strongly worded” against government (or some other group or issue), and I am reminded about what my mother always told me: That arguing with anyone — usually about politics, sports or religion — when it was obvious that there would never be movement to the middle, was useless. “Don’t engage,” she said. “Keep it light and polite.” That seemed to be a very prudent credo. Anyone with a background in customer service, or who has spent time answering a help desk phone also knows this.

We are now into the last few days of the project, and the response has been very good. I encourage you all to visit the OpenEPA page to find out what the EPA is doing to promote transparency, participation and collaboration. Also, visit our discussion forum site to suggest ideas for our Open Government Plan. To date, there have been 150 ideas, 317 comments, 3,080 votes, and 707 users. Please join us in the discussion, vote for one of the 150 ideas or share your own.

About the author: Barry Everett is one of EPA’s OpenEPA Moderators, who is currently on temporary assignment from the EPA’s Dallas office to the Agency’s Washington, D.C. Headquarters office. This blog is part of an ongoing series about the EPA’s efforts toward the Open Government Directive that lays out the Obama Administration’s commitment to Open Government and the principles of transparency, participation and collaboration.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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What does Open Government Mean to You?

At the start of his administration, President Obama announced his commitment to Open Government and the principles of transparency, participation and collaboration. Although we still have work to do at EPA to further these principles, I believe that we have made great strides in embracing the spirit of Open Government. On February 5th, we launched our Open Government Web page where we share our progress in meeting our Open Government goals.

As EPA’s lead for developing a formal plan for the Agency to more fully implement Open Government, I’d like to know your thoughts on what our Open Government Plan should embrace. What does Open Government mean to you? Is it having more data available to conduct your own analyses? Is it knowing more about the research and regulatory efforts we have underway at EPA? Is being able to more directly participate and collaborate with us in our environmental mission. Are there fundamental or philosophical changes that you believe we need to make in order to truly achieve open government?

Although I have been in federal service for many years, I joined EPA just over a year ago. While I had a good sense about the general mission of the Agency, I was unaware of some of the truly amazing work that goes on in the EPA that supports Open Government. For example, in the last year I learned that EPA has a wealth of environmental data to support actions on many levels– our national programs, our communities, and our personal health. I wonder how many people know about our vast data holdings that range from extensive watershed data, to the compliance history of the facilities we regulate, to air quality and ultraviolet (UV) radiation indices that help you decide when it is unhealthy to be outside.

I am a big fan of our MyEnvironment application which is accessible from our home page. I use MyEnvironment to get information about the areas where my family and I live and play.

Looking ten years into the future, how do you hope that Open Government will have transformed the way that we serve the public and protect human health and the environment? I’m looking forward to learning about the creative and innovative thoughts people have that will help EPA work better with you and better protect the environment and public health.

About the author: Lisa Schlosser is the Director of EPA’s Office of Information Collection.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Yours (yôrz)…

About the author: Linda Travers is EPA’s Acting Assistant Administrator for the Office of Environmental Information and Chief Information Officer

… pronoun. 1. That which belongs to you <as in, “The data we – the federal government – collect is yours.”>

President Obama believes you should have much better access to the data government collects on your behalf, and has launched an exciting government-wide effort to make sure that happens. It’s called Data.gov. The White House unveiled this web site last month as one of the leading examples of its Open Government Initiative, created to bring greater transparency, openness and collaboration to how the government conducts the public’s business. I was fortunate enough to be tapped as co-chair of the Data.gov effort.

image of data.gov homepageData.gov is designed to deliver a variety of machine readable datasets and tools over the Internet that the public can download for their own use. We think that easier access to these resources will prove valuable to a broad array of individuals and communities – from researchers to business people to educators and volunteer groups. One of the basic ethics underlying Data.gov can be found in its Data Policy on secondary use, “Data accessed through Data.gov do not, and should not, include controls over its end use.” Simple.

We’ve also designed Data.gov to be a two-way street. We’d like to understand what data and tools you’re curious about and need. And we’re encouraging you to share your own innovative ideas to help us provide the best possible service to the public.

With millions of hits on the web site over the past two weeks, Data.gov has already generated some real interest. But this is just the beginning. We expect that the types and volume of data and tools residing in Data.gov will grow steadily over time. We hope you find our work valuable and stimulating, and we ask that you join us in enhancing this public resource. After all, it’s yours.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.