Environmental Protection:

Observations on Elevating the Environmental Protection Agency to Cabinet Status

GAO-02-552T: Published: Mar 21, 2002. Publicly Released: Mar 21, 2002.

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John B. Stephenson
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This testimony comments on legislation that would elevate the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to Cabinet status. Today, EPA's mission, size, and scope of responsibilities place it on a par with many Cabinet departments. The United States is the only major industrial power without a Cabinet-level environmental organization. It is important to consider that (1) environmental policy be given appropriate weight as it cuts across the domestic and foreign policies that other Cabinet departments implement and enforce and (2) the head of the agency is able to deal as an equal with his or her counterparts within the federal government as well as the international community. Conferring Cabinet status on EPA would not in itself change the federal environmental role or policies, but it would clearly have an important symbolic effect. Regardless of its status, however, EPA must respond more effectively to its fundamental management challenges. These challenges include (1) placing the right people with the appropriate skills where they are needed and (2) gaining access to high-quality environmental, natural, and social data on which to base environmental decisions. EPA must have the flexibility to use innovative approaches to address complex and intractable environmental problems. Meetings these challenges will require the sustained attention of top EPA management.

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