High-Risk Series:

Superfund Program Management

HR-97-14: Published: Feb 1, 1997. Publicly Released: Feb 1, 1997.

Additional Materials:


Peter F. Guerrero
(202) 512-4907


Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800

GAO reviewed the progress made in correcting weaknesses in the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) management of the Superfund program, focusing on EPA's: (1) limited recovery of Superfund cleanup costs from responsible parties; and (2) inadequate controls over contractors' costs.

GAO found that: (1) the magnitude of the hazardous waste problem calls for the efficient use of available funds to protect the environment and the public; (2) as GAO has reported in the past, however, certain management problems have put this investment at risk; (3) since GAO's 1995 report, EPA and other federal agencies have taken steps toward addressing these areas; (4) EPA has begun using a risk-based process to set priorities and allocate some of its fiscal year 1996 cleanup funds for those sites that are ready to begin the construction of the cleanup method; (5) however, EPA's regions make the decisions to allocate the funds for sites in the earlier phases of the cleanup process, and GAO's recent review showed that EPA's regions varied in the extent to which they consider risk in making their decisions; (6) other federal agencies have made uneven progress in: (a) taking the first step toward setting priorities, that is, developing a complete inventory of the waste sites that need cleanup; and (b) implementing systems to rank sites for cleanup according to risk; (7) EPA has made some improvements in its cost recovery program; (8) EPA has continued to obtain legal agreements with responsible parties to privately fund the majority of the cleanups; (9) EPA enforcement officials point out, however, that this approach generally leaves the more difficult cleanups for cost recovery action and thus decreases their ability to recover past costs; (10) while some costs are not expected to be recovered, EPA's historically low recovery rate in part results from the agency's slow pace in completing action on its 1992 proposed rule to increase the indirect costs that it could recover; (11) for the past several years, EPA has focused attention on strengthening its management of Superfund contracts; (12) EPA has continued to exercise oversight, such as conducting reviews of its regions' performance in this area, and made other improvements; and (13) however, GAO's recent review found that in spite of the agency's actions, several problems persist: (a) EPA's regions are still too dependent upon the contractors' own cost proposals to establish the price of cost-reimbursable work; (b) EPA continues to pay its cleanup contractors a high percentage of total contract costs to cover administrative expenses rather than ensuring that the maximum amount of available moneys is going toward the actual cleanup work; and (c) little progress has been made in improving the timeliness of audits to verify the accuracy of billions of dollars in Superfund contract charges.

Below are the reports in this series:

High-Risk Series: An Overview HR-97-1, Feb 1, 1997

High-Risk Series: Quick Reference Guide HR-97-2, Feb 1, 1997

High-Risk Series: Defense Financial Management HR-97-3, Feb 1, 1997

High-Risk Series: Defense Contract Management HR-97-4, Feb 1, 1997

High-Risk Series: Defense Inventory Management HR-97-5, Feb 1, 1997

High-Risk Series: Defense Weapon Systems Acquisition HR-97-6, Feb 1, 1997

High-Risk Series: Defense Infrastructure HR-97-7, Feb 1, 1997

High-Risk Series: IRS Management HR-97-8, Feb 1, 1997

High-Risk Series: Information Management and Technology HR-97-9, Feb 1, 1997

High-Risk Series: Medicare HR-97-10, Feb 1, 1997

High-Risk Series: Student Financial Aid HR-97-11, Feb 1, 1997

High-Risk Series: Department of Housing and Urban Development HR-97-12, Feb 1, 1997

High-Risk Series: Department of Energy Contract Management HR-97-13, Feb 1, 1997

High-Risk Series: Superfund Program Management HR-97-14, Feb 1, 1997

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