Environmental Enforcement:

EPA Needs a Better Strategy to Manage Its Cross-Media Information

IMTEC-92-14: Published: Apr 2, 1992. Publicly Released: May 6, 1992.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed: (1) whether the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is using sound methodologies to develop information systems that assemble cross-media information from different EPA environmental programs; and (2) impediments to the effective EPA management of information resources to meet users' needs for cross-media information.

GAO found that: (1) the methods used to develop the EPA Integrated Data for Enforcement Analysis (IDEA) phase one and the redesigned Facility Index System (FINDS) are not sound or fully consistent with federal guidance or EPA systems development policies and procedures; (2) EPA has not adequately documented the about 150,000 lines of instructions in the IDEA phase one software as the Federal Information Processing Standards require, and has deployed IDEA phase one without a test plan or adequately testing the system; (3) EPA did not specify users' requirements with respect to data accuracy, completeness, or timeliness in its FINDS redesign efforts, and did not adequately budget for the maintenance of the redesigned FINDS software; (4) EPA has demonstrated leadership in making the cross-media mission a high-priority management area, but EPA lacks a complete information resources management (IRM) strategy to achieve its mission; (5) the EPA cross-media IRM strategy lacks effective management mechanisms to plan, coordinate, and budget for cross-media IRM activities and lacks an agencywide information systems architecture and effective cross-media data management; and (6) until EPA completes its cross-media IRM strategy and develops the information systems needed to support its cross-media mission, it will not achieve its vision of protecting human health and the environment through more effective cross-media enforcement and agencywide assessment of risks and prevention of pollution.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA agreed with this recommendation and established a framework for developing an information systems architecture. However, after seven years, EPA efforts to develop an information system architecture are still in the planning stage.

    Recommendation: To strengthen the EPA overall ability to accomplish its cross-media mission, the Administrator, EPA, should complete the agency's cross-media IRM strategy by developing an agencywide information systems architecture that explains the structure of and communications among the agency's information resources that are needed to achieve its single- and cross-media missions.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA has instituted a new process to plan, coordinate, and budget for its agencywide information resources, including cross-media systems and data. This process involves the agency's senior officials at the assistant and regional administrator levels as part of an executive IRM steering committee to develop strategic plans, coordinate program activities, and budget for agencywide and cross-media information management activities.

    Recommendation: To strengthen the EPA overall ability to accomplish its cross-media mission, the Administrator, EPA, should complete the agency's cross-media IRM strategy by developing policies and guidance and instituting management procedures to plan, coordinate, and budget for cross-media information resources and activities.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA took an alternative action. Instead of reinstating as a material internal control weakness its inability to bring together data for enforcement purposes, the 1992 FMFIA report states that deficiencies in developing IDEA constitute a material weakness and that system testing and documentation, the user interface, user manual, and user training are elements of this weakness. EPA again reported deficiencies in developing IDEA as a material weakness in its 1993 FMFIA report pending completion of system testing. System testing is expected to be completed by the end of FY 1995. Since the purpose of IDEA is to provide the capability to bring together and analyze data for enforcement purposes, GAO believes EPA's alternative action is appropriate.

    Recommendation: To better meet users' cross-media information needs and correct its material internal control weakness by developing IDEA and redesigning FINDS, the Administrator, EPA, should reinstate as a material internal control weakness the EPA inability to bring together data from across the agency for enforcement purposes until EPA demonstrates that its enforcement staff and managers are obtaining the information they need to set enforcement priorities, target enforcement, and conduct program oversight.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: According to EPA, the agency replaced FINDS with a new system called the Facility Index Initiative, which is now known as the Facility Linkage Application. EPA officials stated that the application has been implemented and is fully functional.

    Recommendation: To better meet users' cross-media information needs and correct its material internal control weakness by developing IDEA and redesigning FINDS, the Administrator, EPA, should direct the Assistant Administrator for Administration and Resources Management to address data quality problems in the FINDS redesign project by setting standards for accuracy, completeness, and timeliness and by developing a plan for the maintenance of the system.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA has completed its efforts to correct the deficiencies with IDEA. EPA assessed users' needs and subsequently developed an improved user interface for IDEA. In lieu of a formal test plan, EPA developed a testing protocol for IDEA that it used to guide testing of the software and user interface. Testing and verification of the IDEA software was also accomplished by users who compared the output from IDEA with the output from equivalent queries run on the separate systems from which IDEA draws its data. EPA has developed system documentation and a 400-page user manual for the system.

    Recommendation: To better meet users' cross-media information needs and correct its material internal control weakness by developing IDEA and redesigning FINDS, the Administrator, EPA, should direct the Assistant Administrator for Enforcement to assess user needs for the IDEA system, including analytical capabilities to: (1) develop a formal test plan; (2) properly test existing software; and (3) document the IDEA system design and software before developing additional software for the system.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA agreed with this recommendation and has developed a plan to improve cross-media data quality be setting and implementing data standards for 13 national environmental information systems. Also, EPA has developed and is maintaining a data dictionary for these systems.

    Recommendation: To strengthen the EPA overall ability to accomplish its cross-media mission, the Administrator, EPA, should complete the agency's cross-media IRM strategy by developing an agencywide plan to improve cross-media data quality including setting, implementing, and enforcing data standards and developing and maintaining a comprehensive data dictionary.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

 

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