Progress Made by EPA and Other Federal Agencies to Resolve Program Management Issues Gao ID: RCED-99-111 April 29, 1999

Current estimates peg the federal government's cost to clean up the nation's hazardous waste problem at about $300 billion, and the private sector is expected to spend hundreds of billions more. For several years, GAO has included the Superfund program on its list of government operations that are particularly vulnerable to waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement. Federal agencies have corrected some of these long-standing management problems, but those that remain are significant enough to prevent GAO from removing Superfund from its high-risk list. This report assesses (1) efforts by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other agencies to set spending priorities for cleaning up sites posing the greatest risks, (2) EPA's actions to recover clean-up costs from liable parties, and (3) EPA's efforts to better control contractors' cleanup costs.

GAO noted that: (1) for several years, GAO has included the Superfund program on its list of federal programs that pose significant financial risk to the government and potential for waste and abuse; (2) agencies have corrected some of these problems, but those that remain are important enough to prevent GAO from removing Superfund from the high-risk list; (3) 4 of the 5 agencies GAO reviewed--EPA, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Defense, and the Department of Energy (DOE)--are setting cleanup priorities on the basis of the relative risk that sites pose to human health and the environment; (4) EPA, Agriculture, and Defense set nationwide priorities for most of their sites; (5) however, EPA may not know about all high-risk sites because states are taking on more cleanups and deciding, often on the basis of factors other than risk, which sites to refer to EPA for possible listing; (6) each DOE facility considers risk and other factors when setting priorities among its competing environmental management projects; (7) however, cleanups at one facility do not compete with those at another facility on a nationwide basis; (8) the Bureau of Land Management has not set nationwide cleanup priorities because it has not yet developed an overall cleanup strategy or an inventory of its hazardous waste sites, estimated to cost billions of dollars to address; (9) although EPA has succeeded in getting responsible parties to conduct 70 percent of long-term Superfund cleanups, it has been less successful in recovering its costs from responsible parties when it conducts a cleanup; (10) EPA has lost the opportunity to collect almost $2 billion it spent on cleaning up sites since the program began because it excluded large portions of its indirect costs when it calculated what costs to assess parties; (11) while EPA has developed a new method of calculating these costs that could increase their recovery, the agency has not implemented it; (12) EPA has eliminated almost all of its backlog of 500 required Superfund contract audits, and is trying to complete the new audits on time; (13) however, some of EPA's actions have been slow and have not gone far enough to address GAO's concerns that the agency was not using its own estimates of what contract work should cost to negotiate the best contract price for the government or to control contractors' program support costs; and (14) less money is going toward the actual cleanup of high-risk sites, and excessive amounts are still being spent on administrative support costs.


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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