In the April 2018 edition of the E-Enterprise Bulletin, E-Enterprise leader Chris Simmers of the New Hampshire Department of Information Technology discusses his involvement in two successful E-Enterprise projects and the valuable lessons he has learned as a member of the E-Enterprise for the Environment Executive Committee.
What roles do you fill on behalf of the E-Enterprise initiative?
I am the Co-Chair of the Interoperability and Operations Team, and in that role I am also one of the Quad Chairs, which consist of the Co-Chairs of the Interoperability and Operations Team and the Management Board. I also serve as a member of the Executive Committee and a member of the Program Management Team for the Smart Tools project.
What have you found to be most rewarding from your involvement in the E-Enterprise initiative?
One of the most rewarding aspects of my involvement in E-Enterprise is the opportunity to work with a broad range of very smart, talented, and dedicated individuals from states, tribes, U.S. EPA, and other entities who are all committed to “modernizing the business of environmental protection.” Similarly, it has been rewarding to be involved in such a noble cause. Early on, whenever I would find it difficult to balance my E-Enterprise work with my day job, Tom Burack, the former environmental Commissioner in New Hampshire and the original State Co-Chair of the E-Enterprise Leadership Council, would remind me that E-Enterprise is a once-in-a-career opportunity to change the nature of the environmental protection business and improve the state/tribal/EPA relationship. Burack’s motivating words continue to remind me of how valuable our work with E-Enterprise truly is.
In which specific E-Enterprise projects are you currently involved, and how will these improve environmental outcomes?
There are several E-Enterprise projects that I am involved in to varying degrees given my role in governance, but I am most actively engaged in the Be Well Informed application on the E-Enterprise Portal and in the E-Enterprise Community Inventory Platform.
The Be Well Informed application, originally developed for New Hampshire, enables homeowners to enter water test results for their wells and access information regarding the public health implications of the water status, and in some cases (for radon and arsenic), information on various treatment options. After the application garnered a great deal of interest from other states and tribes, we worked with EPA’s Office of Environmental Information to bring Be Well Informed into the E-Enterprise Portal and redesign the application to allow other states and tribes to create and manage their own content. In the near future, the Be Well Informed widget on the Portal will be launched with state-specific information, results, and resources for private well owners in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Wyoming. Several other states and tribes are working with EPA to implement their customizations to the application for themselves within the next year. Having a customizable application for states and tribes that is hosted on the E-Enterprise Portal and that leverages EPA’s IT resources is truly a great accomplishment. The ability to replicate this code sharing can save partners considerable time and money in these days of limited resources.
The E-Enterprise Community Inventory Platform, commonly referred to as the “E-Enterprise Inventory,” is a New Hampshire-led project supported during the development phase by a steering committee of five states (including Colorado, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Mexico, and Wyoming), one tribe (Cherokee Nation), ECOS, and the Institute of Tribal Environmental Professionals. Officially launched in late March, the E-Enterprise Inventory is a social online platform that helps environmental agencies achieve their objectives by: fostering learning and collaboration by connecting people working on similar projects; providing a central space for co-regulators to get questions answered based on results from the collective work of their colleagues; and identifying opportunities for adopting shared services.
What lessons have you learned through your leadership on the E-Enterprise Executive Committee?
The opportunity to be involved in E-Enterprise governance has been a privilege, a learning experience, and an enjoyable ride. Even though I have been involved in several other joint ventures with EPA and with tribes, none of them have had such a formal joint governance structure where there is a commitment to figuring out how to really give everyone at the table an equal voice and to foster early and meaningful engagement of all parties. Participating in this joint governance structure has taught me a number of things, including that: true joint governance is hard; it can be messy and inefficient; the participants have to trust each other, have faith in the process, and be able to disagree without being disagreeable; it does not mean that all parties have to be involved in all projects/activities; and, most importantly, it is absolutely essential to achieving the kind of change that we are pursuing. Another valuable lesson has been that while at times it feels like the states and tribes are at very different points along the spectrum of working towards the objectives of E-Enterprise, there is a lot that the states and EPA can learn from the tribes in terms of their ability to share solutions to common problems. They tend to be much more practical, less burdened by process and bureaucracy, and more creative in using whatever resources they have to solve a particular issue.