EPA's Community Relations Efforts Could Be More Effective

RCED-94-156: Published: Apr 8, 1994. Publicly Released: Apr 14, 1994.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) efforts to involve communities in decisionmaking about local Superfund sites, focusing on: (1) the Superfund program's requirements for community relations activities; (2) the extent to which EPA is fulfilling these requirements; and (3) community residents' feelings about the adequacy of EPA efforts.

GAO found that: (1) EPA is required to provide for public input at most stages in Superfund cleanups; (2) EPA has performed the community relations activities required and in some instances has made additional efforts to provide information to the public; (3) residents at Superfund sites are dissatisfied with EPA community relations efforts; (4) residents feel that EPA outreach efforts do not occur early enough and do not reach affected community members; (5) EPA does not adequately consider residents' health concerns and preferences when selecting remedies; (6) EPA information repositories are not always useful to residents; (7) EPA printed materials use technical language that make them difficult for residents to understand; (8) residents do not always receive updated information on cleanup activities at their sites; and (9) residents feel that high EPA staff turnover makes community relations difficult.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA added early community participation proposals to the 1995 Superfund reform proposal submitted to Congress. In addition, EPA has such initiatives as community-based remedy selection, community involvement in reasonable risk assessment, and the OMSBUDSMAN program, which allows community participation at any point in the process.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, EPA, should direct EPA to include the community in cleanup decisions from the time of EPA earliest active involvement in a site through completion of the cleanup by requiring public meetings, the creation and updating of mailing lists, and opportunities for public comment.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Office of Emergency and Remedial Response is working with EPA regions to address repository issues. The Community Involvement and Outreach Center (CIOC) contacted 45 randomly selected repositories and polled EPA's regional community involvement coordinators (CIC) to get their perspectives and suggestions. The issues raised primarily concerned local resources and space; standard procedures to manage repositories; and technical assistance. CIOC will next resolve some impediments and issues affecting repositories. Along with paper copies, electronic versions of most repository materials will become available as the regions move toward electronic recordkeeping and improve EPA's capability to share materials with the public. EPA regions will use the Internet, as much as possible, to minimize the amount of space needed to store repository information and allow the public more access to site information. Regions plan to use this technology primarily as a source for new repositories.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, EPA, should direct EPA to explore ways to ensure that the information repositories are more useful and accessible to the public and maintained in a way so that documents are publicly available.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: CIOC developed a fact sheet entitled "Publishing Effective Public Notices" (February 1997; EPA 540-K-97-001; PB97-963202) that provides guidance on improving public notices and provides examples of graphic and design formats. In addition, electronic templates have been distributed among regional community involvement coordinators to provide easy access to the graphics.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, EPA, should direct EPA to make public notices available to a broader segment of the public by redesigning them to make them more visible in newspapers and printing them in local newspapers where available.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA has installed the Grammatik program on its LAN to improve writing technique and document readability. EPA also provides writing training to help staff improve the readability of documents.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, EPA, should direct EPA to assess the benefits of routinely performing readability assessments of fact sheets and other documents intended for the general public to make these documents less technical and accessible to a broader segment of the public.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: CIOC conducted a multi-faceted workforce analysis of EPA regional CICs. The study was designed to define CICs' existing workload, the skills and abilities they needed, and the type of training they needed to more effectively meet their responsibilities. CIOC is using information from this study to improve retention and enhance job performance of CICs. As a direct result of the survey, CICs were given training to help site teams think proactively about the most effective ways to involve the public in the Superfund effort. Also, CIOC continues efforts to reduce staff turnover by raising the status of CICs (e.g., CIC of the Year award, promotion potential to GS-13). A final milestone to address this recommendation was to cost out Superfund reauthorization proposals to determine their resource implications for community involvement. These provisions were costed out for the 1994 and 1995 reauthorization proposals, and EPA plans to continue to cost out this information in future proposals.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, EPA, should direct EPA to assess the current and future workloads of community relations staff to ensure that the workloads are reasonable and develop a plan to help minimize turnover.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency


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