EPA’s Param Soni on Bettering the Environment Through Information Technology

Param Soni, Chief Architect, EPA

Param Soni, Chief Architect, EPA

Param Soni has been in the information business since the late 1980s.

Soni, the chief architect for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), finished graduate school at the University of Maryland, College Park and began working immediately after with information technology companies; first at Hughes, PRC, then as Director at Pricewaterhouse (now PricewaterhouseCoopers), later as president and CTO of AppsHub and then as a Senior Consultant for IBM’s Global Business Services before joining EPA.

A 2014 Fed 100 award winner, Soni today works through EPA’s $8.2 billion annual budget to lead and maintain the agency’s information management and information technology solutions architecture representing approx. $400 million of IT portfolio in the enterprise roadmap.

For Soni, it’s the opportunity to implement IT for the purpose of aiding EPA’s fulfillment of its mission to protect human health and the environment that makes the job all worth it.

“I support information management needs of programs both on the EPA mission side to protect the land, the environment, water, air, as well as on the administrative side… such as HR, financial management, grants management,” Soni told us in a recent interview. “I enjoy that I get the opportunity to work with our customers. I see our customers as the program owners. Figuring out how to support the mission of EPA and how they can use IT to do what they have to do to lead the federal regulations or the things they need to meet the mission of the agency… that’s what I enjoy.”

In the interview, Soni told us about the projects he’s knee-deep in to better the end user experience for those customers – local and federal regulators and businesses — who work with EPA, his hopes for the future state of EPA’s information architecture and the work he does with the Association for Federal Information Resources Management (AFFIRM) as treasurer and board member.

The whizzes at EPA – like those at most government organizations – have been hard at work in recent years to implement advanced technology to facilitate all aspects of their mission fulfillment.

One such project is EPA’s E Enterprise Initiative, which aims to streamline environmental regulation by facilitating collaboration between states, tribes, industry, and the agency.

The web-based data sharing system would allow regulated entities to use technology to improve environmental outcomes and compliance status by letting them report air emissions or apply for permits among other capabilities.

It would allow, in other words, the regulators and the regulated to more efficiently share information with each other.

“The project will unify the experience for our customers — contractors, our state agencies, and the tribes, and unify the process of reporting to EPA,” Soni said. “That’s one of our large projects and the goal of it is to reduce burden on them — on our customers — as they report to EPA.”

The team at EPA is also working to equip state inspectors with mobile tablets to facilitate the inspection of hazardous sites.

Things Are Looking Up
And while Soni said he and his team must often deal with challenges – from integrating complex systems to easing the adoption of new technology – the challenges rarely come from up above.

“Our senior management is very supportive. They’re very progressive, so that’s always great,” he said. “We just have to make sure that we meet demands, work with the customers, understand the requirements, and then provide them with what they need in the most efficient way.”

The group will be tasked in future years with ensuring it makes proper use of its big data while maintaining its customer-centric focus.

“We’re moving towards using new technology, like cloud computing, and figuring out how to provide a more efficient, agile infrastructure so customers can support their environment or their applications. The focus is moving more towards how we can be more of a customer focus verses an EPA focus,” Soni said. “The focus is also on how to use all our data. We collect a lot of data so figuring how to analyze, integrate, and effectively use and apply it.”

The Association for Federal Information Resources Management (AFFIRM)
At AFFIRM, Soni and his group aim to foster knowledge sharing between industry and government to give both entities the intelligence resources necessary to perform their jobs.

“We invite government executives to discuss the major topics that are of interest, both to us as a federal employee of the federal government and also the industry,” Soni said, noting that the meetings provide value for both government and industry participants. “The government… we know what our issues are, we know what our requirements are and industry has solutions. For the government, they help us with our focus, where the industry is moving. So we believe it’s a benefit for both and it’s a good cause because it’s a non-profit. We provide education scholarships to local universities so students can have the opportunity to work in the federal government.”

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