Air Pollution:

Improvements Needed in Developing and Managing EPA's Air Quality Models

RCED-86-94: Published: Apr 22, 1986. Publicly Released: Jun 18, 1986.

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In response to a congressional request, GAO reported on the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) use of air quality models in carrying out the requirements of the Clean Air Act, specifically: (1) the accuracy, adequacy, and cost of the models; (2) the problems and limitations arising from uncertainties associated with the models; and (3) the appropriateness of an agreement between EPA and its contractor for developing a utility-sector air quality analysis model.

GAO noted that: (1) EPA is currently evaluating the accuracy of its air quality models and modifications to reduce the level of uncertainty; (2) EPA needs to develop more refined models to fully implement and monitor the air pollution programs under the act; (3) more refined models are more costly; and (4) EPA entered into a cooperative agreement, which does not require delivery of a product, rather than a contract, to obtain a utility-sector model. GAO found that: (1) EPA models overestimated pollutant concentrations, resulting in industry spending millions of dollars on unnecessary pollution control equipment, replacement fuel, and studies to justify increased emissions; (2) EPA does not have the number of models it needs to properly administer the act's requirements; (3) the costs of developing a model range from $50,000 to several million dollars; and (4) a new utility-sector analysis model that was approved for development in 1980, and was expected to be completed in 1983, has not yet been developed.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In a January 1988 follow-up report (GAO/RCED-88-57), GAO stated that EPA is revising its guidelines to clarify the type of legal instrument to be used for projects involving computer models. As of February 1988, this guidance has still not been published. On June 21, 1988, EPA issued its final guidance as an additional chapter to the Assistant Administration Manual.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, EPA, should implement a policy that provides guidance on what procurement mechanism should be used in various situations. The guidance should include the stipulation that, to the extent possible, contracts, rather than cooperative agreements, be used to obtain new computer models.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency


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