EPA's New Research Controls:

Problems Remain

CED-81-124: Published: Jul 14, 1981. Publicly Released: Jul 14, 1981.

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External and internal criticism prompted the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to take various steps in 1978 to improve research controls. GAO evaluated the degree to which EPA took action to implement its new research controls and how these new procedures resolved previous research planning and management problems.

The GAO review of the new procedures and practices of EPA indicates that, although progress has been made, more still needs to be done. Because of the new research committees, communications between researchers and users have improved and the responsiveness of research findings to program needs is better than it was in the past. However, in many cases, the committees have not achieved agreement between researchers and the program offices concerning strategies and research to be performed. Draft and finalized strategies which GAO reviewed varied greatly in scope, detail, and presentation of program office needs and planned research activity. The relevance to program office needs of many currently planned research projects has been questioned without satisfactory resolution. Unless research groups formally agree that planned research will reasonably meet EPA priority regulatory needs, criticism of EPA research will continue. Research committees need to be kept apprised of significant modifications in the conduct of planned research. GAO found that none of the research committees it reviewed is performing this monitoring function. Existing monitoring systems are inadequate because they are either inoperative or do not contain sufficient data to effectively monitor projects. Ensuring quality research is a difficult task, but generally accepted standards include peer review and publication of research results in scientific journals. EPA has made significant progress regarding peer review and publication of final research results, but more needs to be done.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, EPA, should reinstate the Project Tracking System to include the names of specific users for all program-related projects.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  2. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, EPA, should require ORD progress reports to identify specific research users for all program-related projects and require these reports to be distributed to the specific users.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  3. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, EPA, should establish procedures that require regulatory offices and laboratories to agree before projects are started that the approach and timing of research projects are reasonable to meet intended needs.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  4. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, EPA, should require research committees to monitor research progress and implementation plans and ensure that research users are kept apprised of research progress.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  5. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, EPA, should require that the technical information plan include all ongoing research outputs agreed to via the research committee planning process, with the names of specific research users identified.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  6. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, EPA, should require strategy documents to include both a long-term strategic outlook and a shorter term, more detailed, overview of program office needs and planned Office of Research and Development (ORD) responses.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  7. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, EPA, should require all research committees to develop approved strategy documents.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  8. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, EPA, should require external peer review of all research strategies and ensure consistent peer review of extramural and in-house research proposals.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

 

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