Environmental Indicators: Better Coordination Is Needed to Develop Environmental Indicator Sets That Inform Decisions

GAO-05-52 Published: Nov 17, 2004. Publicly Released: Nov 17, 2004.
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Environmental indicator sets assemble quantitative measures of conditions and trends (known as indicators) to assess the state of the environment and natural resources and to gauge progress toward specific goals. Such sets are now being developed to bridge the gap between needed and available information and to prioritize further data collection. The widespread development and use of environmental indicator sets has led federal and nonfederal entities to consider the benefits such sets provide when measuring performance and improving oversight of environmental programs. In this context, GAO was asked to identify (1) the purposes for which federal and nonfederal organizations are developing and using environmental indicator sets, and how they are being used; and (2) the major challenges facing the development and use of environmental indicator sets.

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Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Council on Environmental Quality To provide a comprehensive picture of environmental and natural resource conditions and trends to assess the nation's position and progress, the Chairman of CEQ should develop institutional arrangements needed to ensure a concerted, systematic, and stable approach to address the challenges associated with the development, coordination, and integration of environmental indicator sets. Such arrangements should be capable--either separately or jointly--of assisting in the development, selection, evaluation, and refinement of a national system of environmental indicators. The arrangements should provide for the coordination of federal data collection, monitoring, and statistical compilation activities, including consolidation and prioritization of data gaps, to support environmental indicators. Arrangements should also be capable of guiding and coordinating environmental indicator development and use, including creating a clearinghouse for best practices and lessons learned. The Chairman's strategy should incorporate the best available information technology to develop an information architecture for collecting, maintaining, and distributing environmental information. Moreover, the Chairman should provide for methods to identify environmental research and development focus areas. Finally, the system of arrangements should be designed to ensure the authority and credibility of its outputs.
Closed – Implemented
As noted in our followup discussions, the Counsel on Environmental Quality has clearly met the purpose of our recommendation.
Environmental Protection Agency Building on EPA's initial efforts on indicators and to evaluate the purposes that indicators might serve, the EPA Administrator should establish clear lines of responsibility and accountability among EPA's various organizational components and identify specific milestones, resources, and other requirements for developing and using environmental indicators to inform the agency's strategic systems for planning, budgeting, and reporting on progress.
Closed – Implemented
EPA has continued with an aggressive indicators program, and involves its various offices (and other federal agencies, such as USDA, NOAA, and CEQ)in the process, It also has and continues to use the indicators extensively in its strategic planning processes.

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