Water Pollution:

Stronger Enforcement Needed To Improve Compliance at Federal Facilities

RCED-89-13: Published: Dec 27, 1988. Publicly Released: Jan 17, 1989.

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In response to a congressional request, GAO assessed: (1) federal facilities' compliance with the Water Pollution Control Act; and (2) the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) and states' oversight and enforcement of the facilities' compliance with the act.

GAO found that: (1) most federal facilities did not comply with National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) program priority requirements; (2) in fiscal years 1986 and 1987, federal facilities' noncompliance rate was twice that of private industrial facilities; (3) more than 40 percent of federal facilities had a significant noncompliance problem for more than 1 year; (4) Navy and Department of Energy facilities had the highest noncompliance rates; (5) agency and facility officials cited lengthy budget and procurement processes as factors affecting facilities' noncompliance; (6) EPA and states failed to take timely enforcement actions on 31 of 46 facilities without permits; and (7) EPA did not exercise its authority in 18 instances of untimely state enforcement.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA headquarters has requested regions to closely review federal facilities appearing on the Exceptions List. Regions were also directed to inform headquarters of any problems in negotiating compliance agreements with federal facilities. Headquarters just completed the quarterly review and found fewer federal facilities in noncompliance and fewer lacking a compliance agreement.

    Recommendation: To ensure that NPDES regulators take timely and appropriate enforcement actions, the Administrator, EPA, should direct the Office of Water Programs to set criteria for following up with regions on a quarterly basis on the appropriate compliance strategy to use against all federal facilities for which timely enforcement has not been taken.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA is spot-checking noncompliance reports on a quarterly basis. Headquarters plans to continue this activity.

    Recommendation: To ensure that NPDES regulators take timely and appropriate enforcement actions, the Administrator, EPA, should establish management control procedures to ensure that regions are submitting accurate information for all federal facilities on which timely enforcement has not been taken.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In November 1988, EPA issued a "Federal Facilities' Compliance Strategy" that defines regional office's responsibility for obtaining compliance agreements. Regional office managers will be evaluated on federal facility compliance efforts.

    Recommendation: In conjunction with issuing the compliance strategy for federal facilities, the Administrator, EPA, should take steps necessary to overcome EPA regional staff reluctance to enforce federal facilities in nondelegated states. Steps that should be considered include conducting training or issuing special guidance that: (1) emphasizes to regional staffs the importance of obtaining compliance agreements before federal facilities are reported in significant noncompliance for two consecutive quarters; and (2) emphasizes to regional office program managers the need to ensure regional staff compliance with the EPA policy.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The December 1988 Federal Facilities' Compliance Strategy instructs EPA and states to address violations at federal facilities in a manner similar to addressing violations at nonfederal facilities.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, EPA, should instruct regions to treat noncompliant federal facilities in delegated states the same as nonfederal facilities by issuing notices to the states when they fail to take timely enforcement actions against federal facilities. If the delegated states do not act after receiving these notices, EPA regional offices should enter into compliance agreements with noncompliant federal facilities.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

 

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