EPA Toxic Substances Program:

Long-standing Information Planning Problems Must Be Addressed

AIMD-94-25: Published: Nov 17, 1993. Publicly Released: Dec 22, 1993.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed whether the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics (OPPT) is effectively planning for and using information resources to: (1) identify and assess those chemicals that pose the greatest risk to human health and the environment; and (2) retrieve critical data on health and environmental risks.

GAO found that: (1) OPPT has not completed a strategic information resources management (IRM) plan to support implementation of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA); (2) OPPT divisions and branches have developed over 200 independent information systems and databases that cannot share data because they lack standard data definitions and formats; (3) OPPT scientists waste time and effort using many different systems and undertaking manual searches; (4) OPPT is scheduled to complete its IRM plan in early 1994; (5) the proposed OPPT IRM plan does not include an assessment of users' functional and information requirements or define an information system architecture; (6) OPPT systems will continue to be incompatible without an information system architecture; (7) TSCA provisions requiring EPA to meet users' information needs have not been implemented; (8) the only OPPT online database available to external users for assessing TSCA data lacks a complete index, has limited search capabilities, and does not provide online access to abstracts; (9) external users must wait days or weeks to receive hard-copy documents of most TSCA data; and (10) the effectiveness of OPPT efforts will be limited unless OPPT focuses on external users' needs.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA reported that it has initiated a strategic IRM plan and a systems architecture study, and has developed a Statement of Work requiring a contractor to develop EPA's systems architecture. However, the statement of work focuses on business process reengineering and does not emphasize the development of a systems architecture. GAO will continue to monitor EPA's efforts.

    Recommendation: To assist OPPT in its efforts to provide efficient and effective collection, dissemination, and use of TSCA data as required by the act, the Administrator, EPA, should direct the Assistant Administrator for the Office of Prevention, Pesticides, and Toxic Substances to: (1) complete a strategic IRM plan based on an analysis of internal users functional and information needs; (2) evaluate alternative system architectures for meeting those needs; and (3) select a target architecture to guide the development and evolution of OPPT systems.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA reported that the agency is limiting major system development efforts until it selects a target architecture. GAO is following up with EPA to obtain evidence of development efforts that have been limited.

    Recommendation: To assist OPPT in its efforts to provide efficient and effective collection, dissemination, and use of TSCA data as required by the act, the Administrator, EPA, should limit new OPPT system development efforts until the IRM plan and target systems architecture are completed.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  3. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: EPA has established alternative committees to assist it in efficiently and effectively disseminating TSCA data to federal agencies.

    Recommendation: To assist OPPT in its efforts to provide efficient and effective dissemination of TSCA data as required by the act, the Administrator, EPA, should reconvene the interagency committee established under TSCA as an active body responsible for defining external users' functional and information needs.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA reported that its committees' activities have been a major part of the agency's overall effort to develop an IRM plan and target architecture.

    Recommendation: To assist OPPT in its efforts to provide efficient and effective dissemination of TSCA data as required by the act, the Administrator, EPA, should direct the Assistant Administrator for the Office of Prevention, Pesticides, and Toxic Substances to incorporate the committee's findings in the OPPT IRM plan and target architecture.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

 

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