EPA ECHO - Powered by IDEA
Enforcement and Compliance History Online


In March, 1989, the Exxon Valdez ran aground in Prince William Sound, Alaska, spilling 11 million gallons of oil into Prudhoe Bay. It was the biggest environmental disaster in history.

Shortly afterwards, the White House called the Environmental Protection Agency, and wanted to know if Exxon could be trusted to clean up their own spill. The EPA's response? "We have no way to answer this question."

The White House was not happy, and EPA's inability to respond was reported as a "FMFIA Material Weakness." EPA was now under direct orders to correct this problem, and to do so immediately.


In January, 1990, EPA began developing IDEA (Integrated Data for Enforcement Analysis), a high-powered retrieval engine that would be able to integrate data from EPA's numerous, unconnected enforcement databases, presenting it to the user in a single report. Many people said it couldn't be done.

In February, 1991, just thirteen months later, the first version of IDEA was completed, and the system went into production. Using only a handful of people to design and implement IDEA, EPA had achieved one of the greatest success stories in its history.


At first, IDEA was only used internally by EPA enforcement personnel to target polluters, but it quickly became clear that the vast majority of the information should be made available to anyone who wanted it.

EPA took the bold step of developing a powerful, easy-to-use, interactive web interface, making IDEA-gathered data available to the general public in real-time, at no charge. In 2002, ECHO (Enforcement and Compliance History Online) went into production.

For years, EPA had a high-performance engine with IDEA. Now, with ECHO, they had placed that engine into a sports car, and handed everyone the keys.


Today, in 2010, ECHO is the most powerful environmental data-retrieval system in the world. The numbers speak for themselves: In any given day, over 4,000 real-time retrievals are performed. This year, there will be well over 1,000,000 - all completely free to users.

IDEA and ECHO are shining examples of the federal government at its best. Both were developed and are maintained on an incredibly small budget, yet have proven to be the workhorses that keep EPA performing, year after year.