Environmental Protection:

Collaborative EPA-State Effort Needed to Improve New Performance Partnership System

RCED-99-171: Published: Jun 21, 1999. Publicly Released: Jun 28, 1999.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on the progress made by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the states in implementing the National Environmental Performance Partnership System (NEPPS), focusing on: (1) the status of grants and agreements made under NEPPS between EPA and participating states; (2) the progress that EPA and the states have made in developing results-oriented performance measures to be incorporated into NEPPS agreements and grants to the states; (3) how EPA oversight may or may not be changing in states that are participating in NEPPS; and (4) the extent to which the use of these performance partnership agreements and grants has achieved the benefits envisioned for the states and the public.

GAO noted that: (1) state participation in NEPPS grew from 6 pilot states in its initial year in fiscal year (FY) 1996 to 45 states by the end of FY 1998; (2) of that number, 31 states had both Performance Partnership Agreements and Performance Partnership Grants with EPA in 1998; 12 states had grants only; 2 states had agreements only; and 5 states did not participate at all; (3) nationwide, for that year, $217 million of $745 million in state environmental program grants was consolidated into Performance Partnership Grants; (4) EPA and the states agree on the importance of measuring the outcomes of environmental activities rather than just the activities themselves; (5) however, the development of these measures has been impeded by a number of technical challenges; (6) in addition, EPA and the states have had to resolve fundamental disagreements over a number of issues; (7) despite these barriers, EPA and state leaders have managed to agree on a set of core measures for FY 2000 that are widely regarded by EPA and state officials as significantly improved from those negotiated in previous years; (8) the initial expectation that participation in NEPPS would be accompanied by reduced federal oversight of states has thus far been realized to a limited degree; (9) a number of instances were identified among the six participating states GAO visited where oversight reduction did accompany participation in the system; (10) however, in other cases cited by both state and EPA regional officials: (a) decreased oversight could either not be linked directly to NEPPS participation; or (b) oversight had either remained the same or increased; (11) EPA and state participants nonetheless cited a number of benefits associated with NEPPS; and (12) yet while participants from each state indicated that their participation in the voluntary program would probably continue, they also consistently expressed the view that the benefits of the program should be greater; that the program has yet to achieve its potential; and that improvements are needed.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA indicated that it agreed with this recommendation, and has cited (and documented) a number of actions taken--in conjunction with the states--that speak to the issues identified in our recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, EPA, should work with senior-level state officials to initiate a joint evaluation process that: (1) seeks agreement on the key issues impeding progress in developing a more effective NEPPS; and (2) develops mutually agreeable remedies for these issues. Among the issues such a process could focus on are: (a) developing a set of flexible guidelines, to be used as a tool by state and EPA regional NEPPS negotiators, that could help to clarify the appropriate performance expectations and other conditions that states must meet to achieve reduced oversight in carrying out their environmental programs and the type of reduced oversight (e.g., reduced frequency of reporting, greater autonomy in setting program priorities) that could be achieved; (b) identifying what additional work is needed to address the challenges in implementing the Core Performance Measures recently negotiated by EPA and the Environmental Council of the States for fiscal year 2000, including how these measures can best be reconciled with the measures adopted by EPA under the Results Act; (c) alleviating the resistance among some staff (both within EPA offices and among participating state agencies) toward implementing NEPPS, through training and other strategies; (d) determining what appropriate steps should be taken by EPA and the states to allow for greater use by states of the flexibility envisioned under the Performance Partnership Grant system to shift resources and funding among their media programs; (e) determining how effective public participation in the NEPPS process can best be ensured; and (f) developing ways to improve communication among EPA's headquarters and regional offices and participating states to ensure that states are given a clear and timely indication on whether key elements of their agreements pursuant to the system have the full buy-in of major EPA offices.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

 

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