Response to EPA's Letter Concerning Recent GAO Reports
RCED-98-55R: Published: Jan 28, 1998. Publicly Released: Jan 28, 1998.
GAO responded to a letter from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) questioning the methodology and conclusions of GAO's March 1997 and September 1997 reports on EPA's Superfund cleanup efforts.
GAO noted that: (1) in the March 1997 report on the time it has taken to complete the assessment and cleanup of Superfund sites, which was based on EPA's own data, GAO measured the time: (a) from EPA's discovery of the hazardous waste sites to their listing on Superfund's National Priorities list; and (b) from the sites' listing to the completion of cleanups; (2) the report points out that the assessment and cleanup times for completed sites have generally increased over the life of the program; (3) EPA's letter challenged the methodology GAO used and said that GAO's report was inconsistent with earlier reports; (4) EPA also said that GAO's methodology was mathematically programmed to result in increasing cleanup timeframes over a period of years, involved only a brief period of observations, and was inconsistent with a methodology GAO used for measuring the duration of the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) drug approval process; (5) GAO's methodology shows increasing cleanup times because these times have, in fact, increased, GAO's report accounts for the most recent 11-year period for which data were available, and GAO used a different methodology for measuring the duration of FDA's process because FDA's process was much shorter than EPA's; (6) GAO's September 1997 report on spending trends for the cleanup of Superfund sites analyzes the program's expenditures in fiscal years 1987-1996 to determine, among other things, how much of Superfund's total spending was for cleanup work performed by contractors, in contrast with other activities; (7) EPA's letter asserts that GAO's September report understated cleanup costs, which it said were over 70 percent of the federal Superfund budget; (8) however, GAO's objective was to provide information on costs going to the cleanup contractors who implement Superfund site cleanups; (9) EPA's letter also asserts that the information in GAO's report, in particular the percentage of Superfund spending going to contractor cleanup work, is inconsistent with a September 1994 GAO report; and (10) both GAO reports used the same five categories to provide a breakdown of Superfund costs and both state that the total spending going to contractor cleanup is less than 50 percent.