Great Lakes:

Organizational Leadership and Restoration Goals Need to Be Better Defined for Monitoring Restoration Progress

GAO-04-1024: Published: Sep 28, 2004. Publicly Released: Oct 4, 2004.

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The Great Lakes remain environmentally vulnerable, prompting the United States and Canada to agree on actions to preserve and protect them. As requested, this report (1) determines the extent to which current EPA monitoring efforts provide information for assessing overall conditions in the Great Lakes Basin, (2) identifies existing restoration goals and whether monitoring is done to track goal progress, and (3) identifies the major challenges to setting restoration goals and developing a monitoring system.

Current Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) monitoring does not provide the comprehensive information needed to assess overall conditions in the Great Lakes Basin because the required coordinated joint U.S./Canadian monitoring program has not been fully developed. Information collected from monitoring by other federal and state agencies does not, by design, provide an overall assessment of the Great Lakes because it is collected to meet specific program objectives or limited to specific geographic areas. Multiple restoration goals have been proposed through efforts by EPA and other organizations. EPA developed basin-wide goals through its Great Lakes Strategy 2002 and goals for plans addressing individual lakes. Other organizations have also identified basin-wide restoration goals and priorities. Monitoring of progress toward goals is generally limited to tracking specific action items proposed in the Great Lakes Strategy 2002; other proposed goals are generally not monitored to determine progress. Efforts to coordinate basin-wide goals and a monitoring system face several challenges. The lack of clearly defined organizational leadership poses a major obstacle. Both EPA's Great Lakes National Program Office (GLNPO) and a newly created interagency task force have coordination roles raising uncertainty as to how leadership and coordination efforts will be exercised in the future. Second, coordinating existing restoration goals and monitoring activities among the many participating organizations within the United States, and between the United States and Canada is a significant challenge. Third, centralized information from monitoring activities is not yet available, making it difficult to assess restoration progress. In addition, an inventory system developed by EPA and Canada may not have adequate controls on voluntarily provided information.

Matters for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Closed Implemented - There have been several bills introduced in the House and Senate that encourage the establishment of a task force that is goal oriented and that provides transparent information about its projects and activities. For example, HR 1350 focused on meeting the goals and recommendations in the restoration and protection strategy developed by the Great Lakes Regional Collaboration, signed on 12/3/04. In addition, the purpose of HR 2129 was to provide a collaboration framework for addressing funding strategies, ecosystem restoration and protection, and oversight. In the Senate, S 508 suggested that a Great Lakes interagency task force develop outcome based goals for the Great Lakes System. In addition, S 2912 stated that every 3 years a strategy that identifies Great Lakes restoration goals must be completed.

    Matter: In light of the uncertainty regarding how GLNPO's responsibilities fit with the newly created Great Lakes Interagency Task Force and to help ensure the coordination of U.S. efforts in developing basin-wide measurable restoration goals for the Great Lakes, as well as the development of a joint monitoring system based on those goals, the Congress may wish to consider clarifying whether GLNPO or the task force should lead the U.S. efforts in restoring the Great Lakes and requiring this entity, in consultation with Canada, the governors of the Great Lakes states, federal agencies, and other organizations, to develop and prioritize specific measurable restoration goals for the Great Lakes Basin within a certain time frame.

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Closed,Implemented - In Senate bill 508, the Federal Water Pollution Control Act is amended to include several sections addressing the collection and sharing of data. For example, the bill establishes a federal network for monitoring and collection of data, and identifying emerging problems in water quality or related environmental factors. Likewise, House bill 1350 requires that a report be provided to the Congress that includes an analysis of progress in carrying out restoration. The bill makes clear that information will be needed "for use in future Great Lakes program implementation and funding decisions." Moreover, the bill establishes an oversight forum to coordinate and enhance implementation of the Great Lakes program, and encourages recommendations on future priorities and actions with respect to restoration.

    Matter: In light of the uncertainty regarding how GLNPO's responsibilities fit with the newly created Great Lakes Interagency Task Force and to help ensure the coordination of U.S. efforts in developing basin-wide measurable restoration goals for the Great Lakes, as well as the development of a joint monitoring system based on those goals, the Congress may wish to consider requiring the entity to develop and implement monitoring activities to measure progress toward attaining goals and identify actions that could assist in achieving these goals.

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Closed, implemented - The composition and duties of a Great Lakes executive committee or interagency task force is addressed in several bills. For example, HR 1350 states that representatives from Great Lake States and Saint Lawrence cities should be designated on an executive committee which also includes the chairperson of the task force. Senate bill, S 508 identifies the purpose of the Task Force as helping to establish a process for collaboration among the members of the Task Force. It also states that its goal is to provide assistance and support to agencies represented on the task Force. In addition, Senate bill S 2912 articulates the importance of implementing a coordinated and effective set of programs and projects, which may be best accomplished with a balanced representation of stakeholder groups, including municipalities and other organizations. This approach enhances the role of the task force by incorporating perspectives from a wide variety of affected groups.

    Matter: If the Congress decides that the task force should have the leadership role, it may also wish to consider whether additional Great Lakes Basin stakeholders should be task force members, such as representatives of states and other organizations.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In 2006, EPA reported that in coordination with Environment Canada and affected members of the Great Lakes Regional Collaboration (GLRC) they it was taking steps to manage the process for the inventory of monitoring systems in the Great Lakes Basin. On behalf of the U.S. participants, GLNPO established a process for the affected GLRC members to certify that data in their respective monitoring systems was accurate, current and complete. First, involved GLRC organizations would provide information on their monitoring programs in the Binational Monitoring Inventory and then would complete the initial submissions of data. Second, GLNPO would then review the data submitted, compile information on identified errors and incomplete data , and distribute a summary of GLNPO's findings to the submitters. Third, EPA stated that participants would provide additional and/or corrected information and certify the completeness, accuracy and timeliness of the data. Lastly, EPA stated that GLNPO would continue to encourage GLRC members to complete their contribution to the Binational Monitoring Inventory and to incorporate the Inventory into the Great Lakes restoration and protection strategy. This process and review was scheduled to be completed by the Summer of 2006. In 2008, EPA reported that since 2006, GLNPO and Environment Canada have continued efforts to further coordinate and collaborate amongst all of the entities involved in Great Lake monitoring. A call to update the inventory is done each year, the most recent having been issued in July 2008. The monitoring inventory is accessible through a website and allows for queries of the inventory.

    Recommendation: To facilitate the coordination of monitoring activities by the various federal, state, and other organizations within the Great Lakes Basin, the EPA Administrator should direct GLNPO to develop adequate controls for the inventory of monitoring systems to ensure that inventory data is accurate, current, and complete so as to facilitate users' efforts to coordinate monitoring activities.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency


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