Missed Statutory Deadlines Slow Progress in Environmental Programs

RCED-89-27: Published: Nov 29, 1988. Publicly Released: Jan 30, 1989.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed compliance with deadlines in the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act of 1986 (SARA), specifically to: (1) catalog the SARA deadlines from the date of enactment through December 31, 1991; and (2) determine compliance with deadlines through March 31, 1989.

GAO found that: (1) the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is responsible for 78 of the 150 SARA deadlines, while 19 other federal agencies, all states, and many local community groups and private firms are responsible for the other 72 deadlines; (2) the entities responsible for compliance have met or will likely meet about half of the 87 deadlines occurring between enactment and March 31, 1989; (3) these entities missed 35 of 62 deadlines occurring by September 15, 1988, including 22 that they missed by over 6 months; (4) agency officials attributed delays to inadequate staffing and funding; (5) EPA did not have a formal internal control system to ensure that it met its deadlines; (6) although the EPA Office of Legislative Analysis (OLA) established a central database containing the status of its deadlines, the database provided neither reasons for missed deadlines nor periodic compliance reports to the EPA Administrator; and (7) EPA established a task force to focus attention on federal facilities needing Superfund cleanup.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA recently resolved some problems with the software D-base. The database is now more accurate than it was at the time of review. EPA now includes reasons for missed deadlines, but has had difficulty in obtaining reliable reasons for other missed deadlines. EPA uses a more accurate database of priorities, the Action Tracking Sys tem, to fulfill much of the GAO recommendation.

    Recommendation: To promote timely implementation of future requirements in SARA, the Administrator, EPA, should direct: (1) managers to include information on the reasons why SARA deadlines were missed or are expected to be missed as part of updates to the deadlines database recently established by OLA; and (2) OLA to report regularly to the Administrator on the status of compliance with the SARA deadlines and that this information be included in the EPA annual reports to Congress.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency


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