Consultant hired to help fix EPIC

  • Sue Lee Loy

  • Lee Lord

Hawaii County has hired a consultant to troubleshoot its building permit process in hopes of streamlining a critical government function analysts have called the most cumbersome in the nation.

A little more than a year after the county rolled out EPIC — an online system designed to make the process easier and faster by allowing online applications and enabling multiple agencies to simultaneously work on a document — the learning curve continues on both sides of the county but things are getting better, Acting Public Works Director Steven Pause said this week.


The system, short for Electronic Processing and Information Center, was five years and $2.5 million in the making.

The mainland consultant was contracted last month and has a budget of $10,000 plus up to $6,000 for travel, Managing Director Lee Lord told the County Council Committee on Public Works and Mass Transit.

“We’re basically asking him to look at the whole service and whole process and compare it to what he knows is the national standard that works the best,” Lord said. “We’re working on an assessment and an evaluation of the permitting process.”

Lord said the consultant, James Tener, has already been meeting by telephone with administration and staff and he expects he’ll be on island in the near future. Meanwhile, Lord said, the consultant is suggesting small changes as they go along.

The permitting process is getting quicker, Pause said.

Including permits moved over from three prior systems, there are now more than 450,000 permit cases in EPIC. Some 7,100 have been created in the system over the pas year. 5,900 have been issued permits, 2,100 have been sent back for resubmittal and 1,200 are in some sort of review, Pause said. There are 700 applications in the queue awaiting intake, he said.

“The short of it is there’s a lot of stuff going on over there,” Pause said.

The data migration may not yet be working as intended. Tanya Power, Attainable Housing Task Force chairwoman for the West Hawaii Association of Realtors, submitted a list of eight suggested improvements to the system. The top concern, she said, is that real estate professionals are unable to access permit information on particular properties, making it difficult to know what has been permitted and what hasn’t.

“This makes us unable to perform a crucial part of our job,” Power said. “This hurts the public and also creates an unacceptable liability conditions for us in the real estate profession and the county.”

In addition, review times are still averaging about six months, with applications sitting 30 days in the system before a clerk can even get to it, Pause said. The it proceeds to Land Use, where it stays only a couple of days before moving to a plans examiner, which usually takes 60 days if there are no corrections.

A major sticking point is a staff shortage, especially with plans examiners and inspectors. That’s been exacerbated by coronavirus infections among staffers, he said.

Pause said the industry in general isn’t seeing the transition from field workers to inspectors, as had been common in the past. Meanwhile, there’s a lot of overtime as the clerk have been working Saturdays as well in order to try to catch up.

“I’m not trying to sugarcoat anything,” he said. “There is room for improvement.”

More than 70% of first submissions are returned for one reason or another, he added.

Photovoltaic applications used to be “stuck with the rest of them,” but now take just two weeks to clear the system, Pause said.

“So they’re flowing in and then hit a spot where we’re understaffed and it comes to a stop,” committee Chairwoman Sue Lee Loy noted.

She praised the hard work of the departments, and said more education for the public could also help smooth the rough areas.

“People on the other side of the counter could help the county help themselves,” she said.

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