The IT environment

The marriage of personal conviction and professional opportunity convinced Debra Stouffer to sign on as the first CTO for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. “I can carve out what the CTO position will be,” Stouffer said. “I was very attracted to the mission – protecting human health and safeguarding the environment.”

With this passion, Stouffer sets the tone as the technology strategist for the data-intensive EPA. “I provide executive leadership and advice on critical IT issues … [CIO Kimberly Nelson] has asked me to champion agency-wide projects – to champion creating an enterprise architecture, capital planning, and improvement efforts,” Stouffer said.

For Stouffer, a former CIO at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the CTO position is wide open and exciting. Although Congress defined the CIO’s role in 1996 with the Clinger-Cohen Act, no legislation has pigeonholed the federal CTO. “CTOs are doing different things, depending upon the needs of the organization,” Stouffer said. “As agencies continue to explore the emerging role of the CTO, we will find a niche across the agencies.”

Stouffer brings important experience to the agency during a time of great change in IT deployment across federal agencies. Immediately prior to joining the EPA, Stouffer worked in the Office of Management and Budget, helping to develop the first version of the Federal Enterprise Architecture, currently being championed by Norman Lorentz, CTO of the OMB and a member of the InfoWorld CTO Advisory Council.

Stouffer works closely with Lorentz on the FEA. “She is implementing an integrated enterprise architecture capital planning process at EPA, similar to what we are doing for the federal government,” Lorentz said. “She has made an extraordinary contribution to the establishment of the enterprise architecture as a management process.”

Stouffer said her biggest challenge is getting the leadership buy-in for the changes being brought to the agency by the FEA. The bulk of Stouffer’s time is spent defining the EPA’s own enterprise architecture – in essence, having business define the technology needs – and on capital planning. “You have to articulate the value of the enterprise architecture so that they [agency executives] participate and contribute in identifying how they want the business to look.”

Approaching the EPA’s enterprise architecture from a high level, Stouffer looks for opportunities to embark on modernization efforts. In that vein, the CTO believes Web services will be a significant enabler. “If one agency is collecting information, and analyzing and producing data, that’s a service that doesn’t have to be repeated,” Stouffer said.

By March, the EPA will use Web services as part of the Central Data Exchange (CDX), a single Web portal that will eventually facilitate data sharing with states. “Environmental information is the lifeblood of the EPA,” Stouffer said. “We absolutely need data. The states have always wanted us to come get their data. We will have that data on a node in XML and will automatically get [states’] data, do some aggregation, and make that available to them.”

Stouffer’s strategic role in forming the EPA’s business and technology future is complemented by her role within the Federal CIO Council, where she co-chairs the Federal Architecture and Infrastructure committee, which is instrumental in furthering the FEA’s acceptance and refinement.

“The role of the Council is to facilitate best practices, learning, common standards, procedures, and guidance, based upon policy developed outside the council,” she said. “It’s a wonderful opportunity, and all agencies need to participate.”