Hazardous Waste:

Observations on EPA's Cleanup Program and Budget Management Practices

T-RCED-99-168: Published: Apr 29, 1999. Publicly Released: Apr 29, 1999.

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Peter F. Guerrero
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) cleanup program and budget management practices, focusing on: (1) the number of contracts that EPA has awarded for Superfund cleanup activities for the agency; (2) the extent to which EPA is using its Contracts 2000 initiative as a vehicle to improve Superfund contract management practices; and (3) GAO's perspective on the potential effects of transferring $25 million from the Superfund program's budget to the Corrective Action Program's budget as a means of increasing the number of cleanups under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA).

GAO noted that: (1) EPA may be retaining more contractors than it needs to conduct its Superfund cleanup work; (2) contractors often have low levels of work and high program support costs, such as those for rent and managers' salaries; (3) given that EPA expects its future Superfund workload to decrease as states take on more cleanups that the agency would otherwise have managed under Superfund, and as cleanup construction is completed at more sites, contractors will continue to incur high program support costs unless EPA makes adjustments in the number of contracts it awards; (4) EPA could use the team that is managing its Contracts 2000 initiative--an effort designed to help the agency put in place the Superfund cleanup contracts it needs and assess its contract management practices--to address some of the recurring contract management issues GAO has identified, such as high program support cost rates; (5) however, the agency could not provide GAO with documentation describing the: (a) overall plan that the team would use to determine what options it would recommend that the agency adopt for improving Superfund contract management practices; and (b) timeframes for implementing these improvements; (6) transferring $25 million from Superfund to the Corrective Action program could help EPA achieve more RCRA cleanups; (7) however, GAO cannot determine with certainty what impact this transfer would have on Superfund; (8) when GAO assessed the progress of cleanups under the Corrective Action Program, GAO found that it was slow, in part because companies responsible for conducting cleanups at their facilities did not begin the cleanups unless they had a business incentive to do so, such as wanting to sell or redevelop the property, or until EPA directed them to do so; (9) EPA lacks the resources it needs to direct more companies to begin cleanups; (10) providing more funds for corrective actions could increase cleanup activities; (11) in GAO's report on Superfund program management issues, GAO observed that for fiscal year 1998, EPA had more sites ready to begin the construction of a cleanup method than funds available; (12) reducing the program's budget could further delay cleanups; (13) nevertheless, EPA has the flexibility to propose how it will use the funds it receives for Superfund, such as the relative amounts it would like to use for remedial work and enforcement actions; and (14) EPA might be able to manage a reduction in its budget by cutting its administrative costs rather than performing fewer cleanup activities.

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