Environmental Enforcement:

EPA Cannot Ensure the Accuracy of Self-Reported Compliance Monitoring Data

RCED-93-21: Published: Mar 31, 1993. Publicly Released: May 4, 1993.

Additional Materials:

Contact:

Peter F. Guerrero
(202) 512-4907
contact@gao.gov

 

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800
youngc1@gao.gov

Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) and authorized states' procedures for ensuring the accuracy of self-reported data used in environmental compliance and detection activities, focusing on whether: (1) facilities subject to environmental regulation identify themselves to EPA or an authorized state; (2) sampling results are accurate and reliable to monitor environmental standards compliance; and (3) oversight of collection facilities and laboratories is adequate to prevent error and fraud.

GAO found that: (1) both the EPA Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) and National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) programs require wastewater discharge facilities to register themselves with EPA and authorized states to ensure proper pollution control; (2) in 1992, the RCRA program was the only program to actively seek out nonnotifying facilities, and its efforts have resulted in 45 federal and state civil enforcement actions, several criminal enforcement actions, and the assessment of over $20 million in penalties; (3) the NPDES program and authorized states did not attempt to identify unregulated wastewater facilities because EPA believed that all large facilities were already identified and that small facilities posed an insignificant environmental threat, and NPDES lacked sufficient resources to make identification a high priority; (4) 13 states identified more than 200 smaller unregistered facilities that failed to apply for EPA wastewater permits; (5) EPA could not determine the extent of contamination with any statistical certainty or ensure that sampling results were accurate because the RCRA and NPDES programs have not implemented quality assurance systems that require statistical sampling; and (6) EPA and state controls were inadequate to detect error or fraud because of EPA failure to review and assess sampling procedures, lack of routine laboratory inspections or tests, insufficient resources, low priority for quality assurance, deliberate reporting of fraudulent results, and insufficient fraud detection training for inspectors.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA has undertaken a cross-program enforcement effort that, among other things, identifies and targets unregulated facilities that violate various program requirements. A major element of this effort involves the agency's Data Integrity Enforcement Initiative, which focuses on achieving compliance with reporting, recordkeeping, self-monitoring, and other data requirements. The agency is attempting to ensure that all major EPA programs participate in this effort.

    Recommendation: Recognizing that there should be a consistent agencywide policy for identifying unregulated facilities, the Administrator, EPA, should direct the Assistant Administrator for Enforcement to work with other program offices to determine which programs would benefit from a similar effort to identify unregulated facilities.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA's Office of Compliance has developed a Quality Management Plan (QMP) for all activities that generate, validate, prepare, or use environmental and compliance or enforcement data. The implementation process for the QMP consists of the development of data quality objectives, quality assurance project plans, standard operating procedures, and data quality audits. The systems and practices of the QMP provide a framework for assuring the quality of all environmental and compliance or enforcement data.

    Recommendation: To ensure that discharge monitoring data are accurate and statistically representative, the Administrator, EPA, should direct the NPDES program to work with the Quality Assurance Management Staff (QAMS) to develop data quality objectives and statistical sampling designs. These methods should then be incorporated into new permits as well as into those that come up for renewal.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Office of Water has requested regional water managers to ensure that state inspections include complete reviews of sampling procedures and that regions verify at least annually that state inspections routinely review permittees' sampling procedures. The Office of Solid Waste has taken similar steps to emphasize the importance of effectively reviewing groundwater sampling procedures and held a workshop of experts to develop more effective techniques.

    Recommendation: To implement a rigorous system for ensuring the reliability and accuracy of self-reported sampling data, the Administrator, EPA, should work with the states to ensure that their inspections of facilities in NPDES and RCRA programs include complete and effective reviews of sampling procedures.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA's quality assurance staff has developed generic training on quality assurance management and specific training materials on groundwater sampling and equipment decontamination. The Office of Water has placed greater emphasis on quality assurance and sample collection techniques and is experimenting with various training techniques to reach the greatest number of inspectors. The RCRA program has held a workshop of experts on data quality and published and distributed results.

    Recommendation: To implement a rigorous system for ensuring the reliability and accuracy of self-reported sampling data, the Administrator, EPA, should require that state inspectors in the NPDES and RCRA programs be trained in quality assurance and sample collection techniques, and continue to develop training for states to use.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The National Environmental Laboratory Accreditation Conference (NELAC) is a voluntary association of state and federal agencies created by EPA in 1994 to establish and promote mutually acceptable performance standards for the operation of environmental laboratories. Both the RCRA and NPDES programs have agreed to recognize accreditation based on NELAC standards. EPA also established the Environmental Laboratory Advisory Board, a federally chartered committee, which provides consensus advice from a broad range of private-sector interests. The states, EPA, and other federal agencies have approved 70 percent of the standards and the remaining standards will be voted on at the next annual meeting.

    Recommendation: To implement a rigorous system for ensuring the reliability and accuracy of self-reported sampling data, the Administrator, EPA, should develop a coordinated approach to laboratory inspections and performance evaluations, either through a national accreditation program or through some other agencywide program, and require its use by the NPDES and RCRA programs, as well as by other programs that EPA identifies as appropriate.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: ORD has expanded its management review program. Ten reviews, including the RCRA program, were completed in FY 1994 and 13 in FY 1995. The water program was reviewed in late FY 1995. The RCRA and water programs also are developing quality management plans to improve data reliability and accuracy.

    Recommendation: To implement a rigorous system for ensuring the reliability and accuracy of self-reported sampling data, the Administrator, EPA, should direct the NPDES and RCRA programs, as well as other programs and regions that EPA identifies as appropriate, to work with QAMS to schedule management systems reviews and correct any problems found.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  7. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: ORD developed quality assurance performance standards to be required for all managers responsible for environmental data collection activities.

    Recommendation: Because the ultimate success of quality assurance depends on attention to quality at all levels, the Administrator, EPA, should include data quality as a performance measure for which senior management is held accountable.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  8. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Office of Water has included review of supporting documentation in inspector guides and training programs and is taking other steps to improve detection of fraud in self-reporting sampling data. The RCRA program has taken steps to improve inspector training on laboratory and sampling fraud. It has not inspected laboratories or required states to do so because of a lack of travel funds.

    Recommendation: To better detect and deter fraud in self-reported sampling data, the Administrator, EPA, should require the RCRA and NPDES programs to ensure that routine laboratory inspections in both programs and inspections of facilities in the NPDES program include a review of supporting documentation.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  9. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA cited several activities under way to identify unregulated facilities and to take appropriate enforcement action, including development of pilot programs to identify unpermitted dischargers, the formation of a work group to study minor and unpermitted discharges, and the use of Toxic Release Inventory data to help identify these dischargers.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, EPA, should direct the Assistant Administrator for Water to undertake a joint effort with authorized states and the Office of Enforcement to develop a program to locate and take appropriate enforcement actions against unregulated facilities that are discharging waste to surface water.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  10. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The RCRA and NPDES programs have emphasized fraud awareness in training materials but have not required state inspectors to take fraud training. The agency does agree that fraud awareness training is important and has emphasized it in training documents, courses, and other materials.

    Recommendation: To better detect and deter fraud in self-reported sampling data, the Administrator, EPA, should require the RCRA and NPDES programs to require that training for state inspectors include fraud awareness training.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

 

Explore the full database of GAO's Open Recommendations »

Sep 28, 2016

Sep 26, 2016

Aug 15, 2016

Jul 26, 2016

Jul 21, 2016

Jul 14, 2016

Jul 7, 2016

Looking for more? Browse all our products here