Environmental Protection:

Key Management Issues Facing EPA

RCED-98-153R: Published: Apr 23, 1998. Publicly Released: Apr 30, 1998.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on key management issues currently facing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

GAO noted that: (1) if EPA is to carry out its responsibilities effectively, it needs to improve its performance in establishing priorities that better reflect the risks to human health and the environment and that compare risks and risk-reduction strategies across programs and pollution problems; (2) it is essential that EPA's environmental information is reviewed by independent experts, however, in 1996, GAO found that EPA's peer review policy was implemented unevenly throughout the agency and that, in some cases, peer review was not performed at all; (3) since then, EPA has taken some corrective actions, but all staff have not yet been trained to ensure consistent implementation of the agency's peer review policy; (4) among the agency's management initiatives that GAO has recently reviewed are efforts to reinvent environmental regulation and to make greater use of nonregulatory approaches to control pollution; (5) in addition, prescriptive environmental laws impose requirements that reinforce the existing regulatory and behavioral practices that EPA is seeking to change; (6) one change from existing practices that warrants greater attention involves the use of market incentives, pollution prevention and other nonregulatory approaches; (7) GAO's work has shown that such approaches may be effective and less costly than traditional pollution control methods for dealing with certain problems that are difficult to address; (8) regardless of the management approaches that are used, EPA's success is tied to the performance of other environmental stakeholders, including states and their federal agencies; (9) GAO's work has identified several management problems in the program, including that EPA: (a) has not allocated cleanup resources to the most significant threats to health and the environment; (b) has recovered only a small percentage of it costs from the parties responsible for the pollution; (c) has had difficulties in controlling the costs for contractors; and (d) has not established performance goals needed to monitor the success of the agency's efforts to reduce the time cleanups take and to control the amount of funds used for activities besides the actual cleanups; (10) GAO recently reported on factors that are hampering progress in hazardous waste site cleanups performed by EPA under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act's Corrective Action program; and (11) GAO found, however, that the Corrective Action program has been hampered by problems such as cumbersome cleanup process and facilities' reluctance to initiate cleanups for which they have no immediate economic incentive to do so.

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