The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is taking the first step toward enabling companies to file environmental reports to the government online.
The EPA is planning to issue a proposed regulation this month that would establish a process for regulated companies to file data electronically and use digital signatures.
The final rule, however, won't be issued for a year, according Don Slattery, director of the outreach and communications staff for the U.S. Office of Environmental Information.
Meantime, the EPA said it is "committed to ensuring that regulated companies will be able to report electronically under all major environmental programs by 2002."
The change in policy is designed to comply with the 2003 deadline imposed by the 1998 Government Paperwork Elimination Act.
The new EPA rule would make sure that electronic documents have the same legal force as their paper counterparts. It would specify how electronic reports must be submitted and what kind of software is useable with EPA systems.
EPA is the latest federal agency enabling e-government. Other agencies that are using electronic programs that include digital signatures include the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the U.S. Internal Revenue Service.