Collaborative Joint Governance Transforms EPA’s Working Relationship with Co-Regulatory Partners

What’s the issue?

Most of the na­tion’s environmental laws were written to enable state (and later, tribal) governments to become authorized by EPA to implement the programs established under those laws. After more than four decades of growing experience, capability, and engagement by the states, and a recent period in which tribes began to take on some authorities, a transformative new model of “cooperative federalism” became possible if the EPA, state, and tribal partners could make some timely, basic changes in their working relationships.


At the same time, these federal programs have used different approaches, and adopted widely varying and sometimes disparate processes, to address different environmental problems.  EPA, states, and tribes saw the need to work together – where they shared responsibilities to implement such programs – to streamline and apply technology to those processes (e.g., reporting, permitting, tools to simplify data management), in order to boost our effectiveness and efficiency in delivering services to protect human health and the environment.


EPA, states, and tribes have also recently had to address significant budget realities. Common fiscal constraints led the co-regulatory partners to recognize the need to leverage their exist­ing resources, expertise, and experience to meet their continuing responsibilities, and to see that only through heightened partnerships could the nation’s environmental goals be achieved. 

What was the intervention?

In 2013, EPA and the Environmental Council of States (ECOS) launched E-Enterprise for the Environment (E-Enterprise) to modernize the business of environmental protection by focusing on three goals:

  1. to improve program perfor­mance by streamlining the business processes in programs with shared intergovernmental responsibility to protect human health and the environment
  2. to enhance services to regulated enti­ties, the public, and agency partners by the strategic application of technology to streamlined processes
  3. to work as a transformative model for joint governance where responsibilities are shared.


What’s different about E-Enterprise is joint governance. Instead of the old approach – where EPA bakes the cake (decides what processes to carry out programs should look like) and then consults with co-regulatory partners on the flavor of the icing, joint governance means we work together from the start on decisions about shared responsibilities. The key joint governance body is the E-Enterprise Leadership Council (EELC), co-chaired by a state environmental commissioner and EPA’s deputy administrator, with 10 members each from EPA senior executives and state commissioners. Recent revisions to the E-Enterprise Charter formalized additional joint governance bodies, and provided for equal tribal participation in the EELC.


The EELC provides strategic direction and oversight, and informs the independent resource investment decisions of the partners. The E-Enterprise goals are starting to play out in a wide range of more than 30 projects. For example, the E-Enterprise Portal is a new user-friendly, web platform portal integrating data and functionality to modernize how the public, regulated community, and environmental co-regulators conduct environmental transactions and access resources. Others rely on existing program initiatives and fund­ing mechanisms, but are being developed in ways that are “aligned” with the E-Enterprise goals.

How was performance management useful?

EPA senior leadership made E-Enterprise a significant priority in EPA’s FY 2014-2018 Strategic Plan through the Cross-Agency Strategy for Partnerships, as well as in the Agency Priority Goals (APGs). The E-Enterprise effort, and joint governance through the EELC, was launched under the Cross-Agency Strategy for Partnerships. This strategy has broadened participation in E-Enterprise, as EPA regional offices have identified more than 20 joint business process improvement projects with their respective states or tribes that are being considered as nationally-scalable or regional “aligned” projects. For example, several of these projects (with GA, ID, and IA) would shift water or air permitting or reporting from paper to electronic form. More broadly, Region 7 has set up a “Process Improvement Network” with the states of MO, KS, NE, and IA as a continuing forum to identify and work to streamline and modernize shared implementation processes. Under the E-Enterprise APG, EPA has collaborated with states and tribes to establish the E-Enterprise Portal and streamline water reporting processes. These actions will reduce the amount of work for industry and local governments under those processes by 2 million hours per year, verifying the effectiveness of the E-Enterprise approach.

What was the impact?

These actions are indispensable to ensure the culture change needed to continue the transformation of EPA’s relationship with states and tribes, and to shared ownership and wide adoption of improvements. The concrete, inclusive steps described above have moved us well on the way to making the three E-Enterprise goals (listed in section 2, above) a routine part of our regular work. Collaborative development and application of business process improvements boosts the efficiency and effectiveness of federal environmental programs, increases transparency, and reduces burden for the regulated community and co-regulators. The states have recognized the authenticity of EPA’s commitment to joint governance in their own commitment to collaborate across a wide portfolio of projects when their own resources are severely limited. Similarly, the transition paper issued by ECOS explains that, “[t]hrough E-Enterprise… EPA, states, and tribes are collaborating and pursuing joint governance as a means to change the way environmental programs are implemented…. to transform it into a national enterprise for environmental protection.” In this transformed relationship, we all recognize that while no one agency has all the answers, we will come up with far more by working together than on our own.