EPA's Innovative Technology Program for Waste Water Treatment Needs Better Controls

RCED-84-79: Published: Aug 20, 1984. Publicly Released: Aug 20, 1984.

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GAO discussed the need for better controls in the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) innovative technology program for wastewater treatment. The program has significant potential to improve wastewater treatment technology and can reduce expenditures for energy, construction, and operation of future projects.

GAO found that EPA awarded $20.2 million to questionable projects and $7.3 million to projects which could not be assessed for innovative sewage treatment technologies. Further, project engineers in two of the three regions reviewed by GAO generally did not ensure that projects were innovative. GAO concluded that, although the program was designed to break down barriers hindering development of innovative technology in wastewater treatment, the program has had limited success. The program does not provide sufficient incentives for consulting engineers and states to take the risk or incur the additional cost of developing innovative projects.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA conducted a review to determine if fiscal year (FY) 1985 projects designated as innovative are technologically innovative. This review determined that the procedural changes made in response to the GAO draft report are being followed, and that all of the 48 projects, determined to be innovative by the regions, in FY 1985 were innovative.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that the objectives of the innovative technology program are achieved, the Administrator, EPA, should determine the extent to which all EPA regions are ensuring that projects are technologically innovative.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA issued guidance related to verifying innovative projects and documentation. EPA disagreed with having the technical support group review all projects and requiring regions to follow their recommendations. EPA stated that specific project decisions are delegated to states with minimum federal oversight.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, EPA, should direct regional administrators to establish procedures which will help ensure that the factors constituting technological risk are identified and evaluated. The procedures should include having the regional administrator: (1) independently verify that all proposed innovative projects are thoroughly and systematically evaluated for technological risk, including projects proposed under regional discretion authority; (2) sending all innovative project requests to the Cincinnati technical support group for review; unless actions to the contrary are appropriately justified, the regions should be required to follow the support group's recommendations; and (3) providing a written explanation of the basis for each innovative decision, including the evaluation of risk and potential benefits and actions taken on the technical support group's recommendations.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  3. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: EPA believes that the concept of a targeted demonstration program has merit; however, because the Construction Grant Program is being phased out and seeking additional funds for wastewater programs is not consistent with the administration's position, EPA is not seeking additional funds to start this program.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, EPA, should establish a targeted demonstration program for potential innovative technologies. EPA should examine the possibility of using funds from other EPA programs or, if funds are not available, EPA should prepare a justification for additional funds and provide such information to the appropriate congressional committees for their consideration.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency


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