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Highlights

In September and October 2001, the first cases of anthrax bioterrorism occurred in the United States when letters containing anthrax were mailed to congressional leaders and members of the news media. As the cleanup of the Capitol Hill anthrax site progressed, EPA's estimates of the cleanup costs steadily rose. GAO was asked to describe (1) the costs EPA incurred to conduct the cleanup and how it was funded, (2) the extent to which EPA awarded the cleanup contracts competitively, (3) EPA's oversight of the contractors' work and any suggested changes to EPA's contracting practices, and (4) the extent to which EPA agreed to indemnify contractors against liability for potential damages related to the cleanup.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Environmental Protection Agency To enhance its ability to ensure that the agency is providing effective and efficient contractor oversight, the Administrator of EPA should direct the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response to require the regions to track and monitor both technical and removal contract cost data in the agency's computerized cost-tracking system.
Closed - Implemented
EPA has implemented our recommendation that EPA regions track and monitor both technical and removal contract cost data in the agency's cost-tracking system. (At the time of our review, this system was only used for removal contracts.) Specifically, beginning in 2005 and continuing as the staggered, multi-year contracts awarded by EPA regions expired and new contracts awarded, EPA is requiring that technical contracts--referred to as Superfund Technical Assessment and Response Team (START) contracts--require the use of the agency's cost tracking system with some limited exceptions for responses of short duration. Importantly, the cost tracking system is used for both contract types for larger cleanups as well as regionally or nationally significant emergency response actions.
Environmental Protection Agency To enhance its ability to ensure that the agency is providing effective and efficient contractor oversight, the Administrator of EPA should direct the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Respnse to require the on site staff who are responsible for reviewing contractor cleanup costs to certify that they have done so before the costs are approved for payment.
Closed - Implemented
According to EPA's Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response, EPA now requires that the on-scene coordinators review and approve contract costs for both technical and removal contracts. This stems from EPA's use of the same cost-tracking system for these contracts, as we had recommended. Adding this requirement for the technical contracts is responsive to our recommendation that these contract costs be reviewed by on-site staff before payments are approved.
Environmental Protection Agency In addition, the Administrator should direct the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response to examine whether more or all of the regions should hire specialists--either EPA or contractor staff--to support the on-scene coordinators by providing timely, detailed reviews of contract costs. If EPA uses contractor staff for this purpose, the agency will need to provide appropriate contract oversight and ensure that potential conflicts of interest are identified and mitigated.
Closed - Implemented
In response to our recommendation, EPA has taken steps to provide support to Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response on-scene coordinators by providing timely, detailed reviews of contract costs. Under the framework of the Response Support Corps initiated in 2003 following our report, approximately 1,100 EPA managers and staff nationwide have volunteered to fill key leadership and staff positions for incident responses. According to EPA, many Response Support Corps staff have the skills for reviewing contractor costs, and EPA has provided additional opportunities to provide training to personnel that could support field cost accounting activities. For example, in July 2007, a field cost accounting training session was provided to over 21 participants from EPA headquarters and most of the regional offices.

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