EPA Advisory Committees:

Improvements Needed for Member Appointment Process

GAO-19-681T: Published: Jul 16, 2019. Publicly Released: Jul 16, 2019.

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Jose A. Gomez
(202) 512-3841
gomezj@gao.gov

 

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800
youngc1@gao.gov

EPA advisory committees play an important role by advising EPA on air quality standards, pesticide use, and other topics.

EPA's process for selecting committee members calls for EPA staff to document their assessments of the best qualified and most appropriate candidates before recommending them. EPA generally followed its process for most committees we reviewed, but didn’t follow this key step for 2 committees that advise on environmental regulations. EPA also didn’t ensure that all appointees met ethics requirements.

We testified that EPA should follow a key step in its appointment process and evaluate its financial disclosure review process.

The sign on the United States Environmental Protection Agency building

The sign on the United States Environmental Protection Agency building

Additional Materials:

Contact:

Jose A. Gomez
(202) 512-3841
gomezj@gao.gov

 

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800
youngc1@gao.gov

What GAO Found

Based on GAO's review of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) guidance, the agency's established process for appointing advisory committee members involves three main phases: soliciting nominations, evaluating candidates, and obtaining approvals. Each phase involves several steps. For example, a key step for evaluating candidates involves EPA staff's preparing documents that reflect staff recommendations on the best qualified and most appropriate candidates for achieving balanced committee membership, according to EPA guidance.

EPA generally followed its established process for most of its 22 advisory committees; however, in fiscal year 2018, EPA did not follow a key step for appointing 20 committee members to two committees GAO reviewed: the EPA Science Advisory Board and Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee, which advise the agency on environmental regulatory matters, among other things. The 2018 appointment packets for these two committees did not contain documents reflecting EPA staff rationales for proposed membership, as called for by EPA's established process. EPA developed guidance to implement the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA). By directing officials responsible for appointing committee members to follow a key step in its process to document staff rationales for proposed membership, the agency would have better assurance that it will (1) consistently meet FACA's purpose of encouraging uniform appointment procedures and (2) show how it made appointment decisions to achieve the best qualified and most appropriate candidates for balanced committee membership. EPA also did not consistently ensure that members appointed as special government employees (SGE)—who are expected to provide their best judgment free from conflicts of interest and are required by federal regulations to disclose their financial interests—met federal ethics requirements. For about 23 percent, or 17 of the 74 financial disclosure forms GAO reviewed, an ethics official had not signed and dated that the SGE filing the form was in compliance with federal ethics rules. EPA also did not periodically review its ethics program, as called for by federal regulations, such as through audits or spot-checks, to evaluate the quality of financial disclosure reviews for SGEs. Until EPA's Ethics Office evaluates the quality of financial disclosure reviews of SGEs as part of its periodic review of its ethics program, it will not have reasonable assurance that it will address noncompliance with federal ethics requirements and prevent conflicts of interest on its advisory committees.

Based on GAO's review of the U.S. General Services Administration's (GSA) FACA database, there were notable changes to selected characteristics of EPA advisory committees (i.e. at least a 20 percentage point difference in the change to a characteristic after January 2017 compared to the period after January 2009). Of the four characteristics GAO reviewed—committee composition, regional affiliation, membership turnover, and number of meetings committees held—one or more of the first three changed notably for four of 18 EPA advisory committees after January 2017.

Why GAO Did This Study

This testimony summarizes the information contained in GAO's July 2019 report, entitled EPA Advisory Committees: Improvements Needed for the Member Appointment Process (GAO-19-280).

For more information, contact J. Alfredo Gomez at (202) 512-3841 or gomezj@gao.gov.

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