Superfund:

System Enhancements Could Improve the Efficiency of Cost Recovery

AIMD-95-177: Published: Aug 25, 1995. Publicly Released: Sep 25, 1995.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the adequacy of the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) information systems that support the Superfund cost recovery process, focusing on whether planned modifications to the information systems will improve the efficiency of EPA cost recovery efforts.

GAO found that: (1) EPA financial and records management systems do not provide all the detailed cost information EPA staff need for the Superfund cost recovery process; (2) EPA staff have to conduct excessive manual searches and reconciliations to gather the needed data, which prolongs the cost recovery process; (3) EPA financial management systems are not sophisticated enough to cope with the complexity of certain transactions and the data contained in the systems are not always accurate; (4) EPA internal controls to prevent inaccurate data entry are inadequate and undocumented; and (5) although planned information systems modifications will improve cost information collection and retrieval, EPA needs to do more to enhance its records management capabilities.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA agreed with the recommendation. The agency issued instructions in September 1995 on integrity testing of financial data to regional Financial Management Offices (FMOs) in its revised Financial Management Division (FMD) Quality Assurance Guide. FMD intends to work cooperatively with FMOs to ensure that statistical testing of regional financial data is carried out consistently and reliably, that the testing is done on a periodic basis, and that issues that are identified through testing are adequately addressed. FMD has instructed the FMOs to specifically review Superfund cost recovery data and supporting documents for completeness and accuracy, and to maintain a record of the types of errors and omissions.

    Recommendation: To improve EPA ability to recover costs associated with cleaning up hazardous waste sites, the Administrator, EPA, should take steps to ensure that cost recovery data and supporting documentation are complete and accurate by implementing planned automated statistical testing of the integrity of financial data needed for cost recovery and developing a baseline on the extent of any integrity problems identified.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: According to EPA, the agency's cost recovery data and supporting documentation is complete and accurate as a result of quality assurance controls implemented in its cost recovery systems to minimize data input, processing and output errors. EPA officials reported that controls contained in two independent systems virtually eliminate input, processing and output errors.

    Recommendation: To improve EPA ability to recover costs associated with cleaning up hazardous waste sites, the Administrator, EPA, should take steps to ensure that cost recovery data and supporting documentation are complete and accurate by improving the documentation of financial systems' application controls to help ensure accurate data input, processing, and output.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: According to EPA officials, the agency implemented the Superfund Document Management System (SDMS) in February 1999. SDMS is used to electronically capture and store cost recovery documents, including work performed documents in all EPA regions. EPA believes that this is an efficient and effective process for managing the pre-1991 financial documents and that it would not be cost-effective to store all financial documents in its imaging system, SCRIPS.

    Recommendation: To improve EPA ability to recover costs associated with cleaning up hazardous waste sites, the Administrator, EPA, should take steps to ensure that cost recovery data and supporting documentation are complete and accurate by assessing whether efforts to improve records management systems for cost recovery should be expanded, including evaluating how best to improve the retrieval of pre-1991 financial documents.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: According to EPA, instead of conducting a risk assessment,it has developed security plans for IFMS (in accordance with OMB Circular A-130) which address the same issues as the risk assessment. In addition, EPA reported that it has implemented various reporting tools to manage its Superfund accounts receivable.

    Recommendation: To improve EPA ability to recover costs associated with cleaning up hazardous waste sites, the Administrator, EPA, should take steps to ensure that cost recovery data and supporting documentation are complete and accurate by performing a risk assessment and determining if additional controls are needed for accounts receivable.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

 

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