Clean Water Act:

Improved Resource Planning Would Help EPA Better Respond to Changing Needs and Fiscal Constraints

GAO-05-721: Published: Jul 22, 2005. Publicly Released: Aug 2, 2005.

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Federal and state fiscal constraints may jeopardize past and future accomplishments resulting from the Clean Water Act (the act). In this environment, it is important to manage available resources as efficiently as possible and to identify future human capital needs, including the size of the workforce and its deployment across the organization. GAO was asked to determine (1) the extent to which the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) process for budgeting and allocating resources considers the nature and distribution of its Clean Water Act workload and (2) the actions EPA is taking to improve resource planning and the challenges the agency faces in doing so.

EPA's process for budgeting and allocating resources is largely based on historical precedent and does not fully consider the changing nature or distribution of the workload either for specific environmental laws or the broader goals and objectives in the agency's strategic plan. With prior year's allocations as the baseline, year-to-year changes are marginal. EPA's program offices and regions also have some flexibility to realign resources based on actual workload. Overall, the impact of these changes is minor, according to EPA. Because the nature and distribution of the act's workload has changed as the scope of regulated activities has grown, with EPA gaining new responsibilities and shifting others to the states, more than marginal changes may be appropriate. EPA does not conduct the periodic "bottom-up" assessments of the work that needs to be done, the distribution of the workload, or the resources needed to respond more effectively to changing needs and constrained resources. EPA has developed initiatives that could improve its ability to plan its resources more strategically, including efforts that focus on workforce planning. These efforts are promising but could be more effective if two agencywide initiatives were better coordinated and employee skill surveys were designed to identify gaps in needed skills. Beyond these initiatives, EPA faces larger challenges in adopting a more systematic process for budgeting and resource allocation, particularly in obtaining reliable data on key workload indicators. According to EPA officials, data on many of the factors that affect workload--and thus, drive resource needs--are not comprehensive or reliable. One of the biggest challenges will be assessing which of the workload indicators represent the most significant factors in determining resource needs. While this assessment presents a challenge, it would help EPA set priorities for improving data quality.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA agreed with the recommendation, and has since begun reviewing methodologies to assess the alignment between workforce allocations and workload drivers. The Office of the Chief Financial Officer has selected a contractor to analyze methodologies in the availability and proper use of data, and that work is presently underway.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, EPA, should identify the key workload indicators that drive resource needs, ensure that relevant data are complete and reliable, and use the results to inform the agency's budgeting and resource allocation.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA agreed with this recommendation, and has launched what it deems to be "complementary initiatives" to address it. These involve collaborative strategic workforce planning efforts across the agency to better understand the alignment between priorities, human capital allocations, and staffing resource needs.

    Recommendation: To ensure that EPA is making the best use of resources dedicated to strategic workforce planning, EPA should coordinate ongoing planning efforts across the agency to avoid duplication.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Building on its collaborative strategic workforce planning effort across the agency to better understand the alignment between priorities, human capital allocations, and staffing resource needs, the agency's Office of Administration and Resource Management developed a strategic workforce plan that identified 19 mission-critical occupations (MCOs) necessary to accomplish agency goals and a blueprint for assessing the present competency levels of the MCOs. Among the MCO assessments that EPA has completed are on information technology positions and human resource management positions. It also completed a pilot assessment on leadership positions.

    Recommendation: EPA's workforce planning efforts should build on what the agency has accomplished thus far in identifying priority occupations, needed competencies, and skill gaps for the agency as a whole. As a next step, consistent with GAO's 2001 recommendations, EPA should focus its efforts on a ground level assessment and identify (1) the agency's workload and skill needs; (2) the skills and deployment of existing staff, geographically and organizationally; and (3) strategies to fill identified gaps.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA issued the required report on the costs of implementing the Clean Water Act.

    Recommendation: EPA should meet reporting responsibilities under section 516(b)(1) of the Clean Water Act or seek appropriate relief from the Congress.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency


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