US Forest Service Wins 2011 Excellence.Gov Award

By admin  -  On 05 Apr, 2011 -  0 comments

SALMON, ID, March 15, 2011 – The Salmon-Challis National Forest in Idaho recently received a prestigious award from the American Council for Technology and Industry Advisory Council for developing an innovative new internet system that simplifies, saves money and provides greater customer service for the 17,000 permits processed for four Idaho rivers every year.

Historically, the river permitting process on Idaho’s Main Salmon, Middle Fork of the Salmon, Snake and Selway Rivers has been a long process for river visitors as well as Forest Service staff. The process required manual data-entry into a computer-generated random drawing, manual depositing of fees, and personal communication of the results to thousands of applicants.

In May, with the assistance of the Information Technology team at Innovative Solutions Group, Forest Service field staff began to manage the permitting process electronically at three remote boat launch sites on the Middle Fork and main Salmon River.

To supply power in such a remote location, the Forest installed glass solar panels to power the modems and computers providing internet connectivity.  The panels and satellite dishes were installed on or near administrative buildings to minimize visual impacts. Most of the project was paid for by citizens who boated the Middle Fork, through user fees.

With the remote wireless system in place customers can apply for permits online knowing their information is accurate, secure and protected. The permit information is available at the launch sites. Staff has more time to devote to meeting visitor needs. No funds are kept at the remote locations, thus reducing the number of aircraft and vehicle trips to carry funds and receipts to district offices.

There has been an 80 percent reduction in radio/satellite phone usage at the three launch sites now that boaters have internet access. Airwaves are no longer dominated by permit management issues and are open for true emergencies, such as wildfire response.

“This project represents a remarkable attempt to bring modern technology into the wilds of Idaho in order to better serve our recreational customers. With a few key-strokes, customers can perform a number of functions accurately and securely,” said Forest Supervisor Frank Guzman. “Customer applications, payments and records can now be made at the boat launch sites, freeing customers to focus on what’s really important — immersing themselves in the natural beauty of our National Forest System.”

The award is one of seven presented annually to acknowledge and recognize government programs that use information technology to advance the business of government in an effective, efficient and innovative manner. This is the first time the Forest Service has received an Excellence.Gov award.  “The Remote Site Permitting Project has greatly improved customer service, alleviated the administrative workload, and reduced the cost of the permitting system. This ground-breaking work has the potential for replication in other remote Forest Service locations,” noted Guzman.

Project implementation was completed by the eGov Remote Wireless Group, a collaborative effort between the Forest Service Chief Information Office staff, the Missoula Technology Development Center (partner), Innovative Solutions Group (contractor) and the Salmon-Challis National Forest. eGroup Remote Wireless group members include John King, John Haugh, Robert Roth, Art Clinton, and Linda Walton.