Federal-State Environmental Programs--The State Perspective

CED-80-106: Published: Aug 22, 1980. Publicly Released: Aug 22, 1980.

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Congress intended that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the states should act in partnership to implement federally mandated environmental programs. Generally, the states have implemented these programs, enacted enabling legislation, and provided part of the funding. However, the states believe many obstacles impede their implementation of those programs and are beginning to consider these obstacles when deciding whether to assume more program responsibilities. Because Congress expressed concern about the federal-state relationships in this area, a review was undertaken to determine the managerial problems the states face in implementing environmental programs. By confirming that these obstacles actually exist, GAO tried to determine the impact they have on the federal-state partnership.

According to state environmental officials, late issuance of regulations has resulted in erratic, confused, and slow implementation of state programs. Lack of flexibility to adapt state programs or unique characteristics to national regulations has wasted state resources, stifled initiative, and unnecessarily increased costs for environmental control. Other more subtle EPA control mechanisms which state officials believe also impede program implementation included detailed grant conditions and mandatory policy guidance. The root cause of staffing problems across all environmental programs was low state salaries. Consistently late annual program grants resulted in termination or threatened termination of state employees or delays in filling badly needed positions. Moreover, paperwork requirements taxed already limited staff by diverting employees from program operations. Poor communication has strained the EPA-state relationship. Because a majority of the state officials believed that the EPA headquarters staff did not understand the obstacles states face in implementing EPA directives, hostility permeated much of the relationship between the states and EPA. However, states generally had good relationships with EPA regional staffs.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Adiminstrator, EPA, should establish, as a high priority and in conjunction with state representatives, a formal program to improve the EPA-state partnership. This should include: establishing prcedures to ensure that early state agency input is solicited before any action is taken having a direct bearing on state program implementation; and establishing joint EPA-state committees for each program to review its various aspects, identify implementation problems, and advise the EPA Administrator.

    Agency Affected:


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