Major Management Challenges and Program Risks

Environmental Protection Agency Gao ID: OCG-99-17 January 1, 1999

This publication is part of GAO's performance and accountability series which provides a comprehensive assessment of government management, particularly the management challenges and program risks confronting federal agencies. Using a "performance-based management" approach, this landmark set of reports focuses on the results of government programs--how they affect the American taxpayer--rather than on the processes of government. This approach integrates thinking about organization, product and service delivery, use of technology, and human capital practices into every decision about the results that the government hopes to achieve. The series includes an overview volume discussing governmentwide management issues and 20 individual reports on the challenges facing specific cabinet departments and independent agencies. The reports take advantage of the wealth of new information made possible by management reform legislation, including audited financial statements for major federal agencies, mandated by the Chief Financial Officers Act, and strategic and performance plans required by the Government Performance and Results Act. In a companion volume to this series, GAO also updates its high-risk list of government operations and programs that are particularly vulnerable to waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement.

GAO noted that: (1) EPA needs more comprehensive information on the condition of the environment to effectively set priorities, assess progress in achieving its goals and objectives, and report on its accomplishments in a credible way; (2) although EPA and the states collect a considerable amount of data, the agency's data systems are often outmoded and difficult to integrate to produce comprehensive environmental information; (3) important gaps in the data also exist; (4) although the current regulatory system for environmental protection has had its successes, it has proven to be costly and, at times, inflexible; (5) noting that complex future environmental challenges will require fundamentally different regulatory approaches, EPA has initiated a variety of actions aimed at reinventing environmental regulation; (6) however, the agency faces several challenges, including helping its rank-and-file employees to understand and support changes to the current regulatory system and obtaining consensus among the agency's varied stakeholders on what these changes should be; (7) as authorized by environmental statutes, EPA has increasingly delegated responsibilities for environmental protection activities to the states; (8) the states have become important EPA partners as they have assumed the responsibility for implementing most national environmental programs on a daily basis; (9) despite the importance of this partnership, the relationship has often been characterized by fundamental disagreements over roles, priorities, and the extent of federal oversight that potentially limit the effectiveness of these programs; (10) EPA has improved its management of the Superfund program--the agency's $1.5-billion effort to clean up the nation's most hazardous waste sites--since GAO's 1992 designation of the program as being at high risk of fraud, waste and abuse; (11) actions are still needed to: (a) ensure that limited resources are used to clean up sites that pose the greatest risk; (b) recover billions of dollars in cleanup costs from those responsible for the contamination; and (c) control site cleanup costs through the efficient and effective administration of cleanup contracts; (12) EPA is aware of the importance of meeting these management challenges and has various initiatives under way to address them; (13) EPA is also developing a strategic action plan to improve the quality of the data in its major information systems and a strategy to identify and fill significant gaps in the available environmental data; and (14) although EPA is making progress in addressing its management challenges, they have been long-standing, and overcoming them will require the agency's long-term commitment and, in some cases, additional resources.

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