Environmental Protection:

Collaborative EPA-State Effort Needed to Improve Performance Partnership System

T-RCED-00-163: Published: May 2, 2000. Publicly Released: May 2, 2000.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO discussed the National Environmental Performance Partnership System (NEPPS), focusing on: (1) grants and agreements made under NEPPS between the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and states; (2) 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 have been changing in states that were participating in NEPPS; and (4) the extent to which the use of these performance partnership agreements and grants had 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) EPA and the states agree on the importance of measuring the outcomes of environmental activities rather than just the activities themselves, in order to help them better understand whether their programs are achieving their intended results; (4) despite a number of technical challenges (e.g., the inherent difficulty in quantifying certain results, and the difficulty of linking program activities to environmental results) and disagreements between EPA and the states on such matters as the degree to which states should be permitted to vary from the national core measures, 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; (5) the initial expectation that participation in NEPPS would be accompanied by reduced federal oversight of states has thus far been realized to only a limited degree; (6) GAO identified a number of instances among the six states that GAO visited where oversight reduction did accompany participation in the system; (7) however, in other cases cited by both state and EPA regional officials, it was difficult to attribute reduced oversight directly to NEPPS participation; (8) other instances were cited where oversight had either remained the same or had actually increased; (9) EPA and state participants cited a number of benefits associated with NEPPS, for example, that participation provided a means of getting buy-in for innovative and unique projects and served as a tool to divide an often burdensome workload more efficiently between federal and state regulators; (10) yet while participants from each state indicated that their participation in the voluntary program would probably continue, they also consistently expressed the view that: (a) the benefits of the program should be greater; (b) the program has yet to achieve its potential; and (c) improvements are needed; and (11) the 1995 agreement anticipated the appropriateness of such reflection in calling for "a joint evaluation system for EPA and the states to review the results of their efforts to ensure continuous improvement."

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