Superfund Program Management

Gao ID: HR-93-10 December 1, 1992

Many GAO audit reports have spotlighted the effect of management failures in the federal government--waste, inefficiency, and even scandal. Political leaders have been forced to spend too much time reacting to surprises like the Department of Housing and Urban Development debacle rather than doing the work the agencies were created to do. GAO began its high-risk program to identify those high-dollar government programs most vulnerable to fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement. This report is part of the program's high-risk series of reports, which examine the federal government's efforts to identify and correct problems in 17 especially vulnerable areas, fall into three main categories: lending and insuring, contracting, and accountability. Many of the root causes of the problems afflicting these government programs are traceable to the absence of fundamental processes and systems. GAO urges that future congressional oversight focus on the agency reports and audited financial statements required by the Chief Financial Officers Act, agency management's progress in correcting material weaknesses in program internal control and accounting systems, and federal agency efforts to develop and implement performance standards. The Comptroller General summarized the high-risk series in testimony before Congress; see: Government Management--Report on 17 High-Risk Areas, by Charles A. Bowsher, Comptroller General of the United States, before the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs. GAO/T-OCG-93-2, Jan. 8, 1993 (22 pages).

GAO found that: (1) EPA failed to base its Superfund expenditures on adequate cost-benefit assessments and lacked sufficient program administration to control escalating costs; (2) EPA lacked an adequate system for assigning clean-up priorities and determining Superfund sites' health and environmental risks in comparison to other environmental problems; (3) EPA collected only 10 percent of the potential $5.7 billion in recoverable funds from responsible parties; (4) the lack of complete data on past recovery efforts, failure to control collection efforts, and Superfund's legal restrictions which exclude recovery of indirect costs and interest limited EPA ability to recover more funds from responsible parties; and (5) EPA needed to develop additional risk-based planning approaches to assigning clean-up priorities, place greater emphasis on recovering program costs, and strengthen contract management.

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