Environmental Enforcement

EPA Cannot Ensure the Accuracy of Self-Reported Compliance Monitoring Data

Gao ID: RCED-93-21

March 31, 1993

Many U.S. environmental programs depend on hazardous waste and wastewater discharge facilities to identify themselves as subject to regulation, to monitor their own compliance with applicable environmental standards, and to report the results of their monitoring to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or to state agencies. Because of insufficient or inconsistent controls and the generally low priority assigned to data quality assurance, EPA and many states cannot be certain that all facilities subject to regulation are identified or that sampling results are representative and free of error or falsification. Although EPA has established a data quality assurance system that calls for statistically representative sampling, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act Program has not yet developed statistical techniques to specify the location for collecting samples and the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Program does not use statistical techniques to specify the frequency for collecting samples. Both programs rely instead on permit writers to determine what is representative. Neither program has adequate controls to detect error or fraud in sampling data.

GAO found that: (1) both the EPA Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) and National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) programs require wastewater discharge facilities to register themselves with EPA and authorized states to ensure proper pollution control; (2) in 1992, the RCRA program was the only program to actively seek out nonnotifying facilities, and its efforts have resulted in 45 federal and state civil enforcement actions, several criminal enforcement actions, and the assessment of over $20 million in penalties; (3) the NPDES program and authorized states did not attempt to identify unregulated wastewater facilities because EPA believed that all large facilities were already identified and that small facilities posed an insignificant environmental threat, and NPDES lacked sufficient resources to make identification a high priority; (4) 13 states identified more than 200 smaller unregistered facilities that failed to apply for EPA wastewater permits; (5) EPA could not determine the extent of contamination with any statistical certainty or ensure that sampling results were accurate because the RCRA and NPDES programs have not implemented quality assurance systems that require statistical sampling; and (6) EPA and state controls were inadequate to detect error or fraud because of EPA failure to review and assess sampling procedures, lack of routine laboratory inspections or tests, insufficient resources, low priority for quality assurance, deliberate reporting of fraudulent results, and insufficient fraud detection training for inspectors.

Recommendations

Our recommendations from this work are listed below with a Contact for more information. Status will change from "In process" to "Open," "Closed - implemented," or "Closed - not implemented" based on our follow up work.

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