Recommendations Database

GAO’s recommendations database contains report recommendations that still need to be addressed. GAO’s priority recommendations are those that we believe warrant priority attention. We sent letters to the heads of key departments and agencies, urging them to continue focusing on these issues. Below you can search only priority recommendations, or search all recommendations.

Our recommendations help congressional and agency leaders prepare for appropriations and oversight activities, as well as help improve government operations. Moreover, when implemented, some of our priority recommendations can save large amounts of money, help Congress make decisions on major issues, and substantially improve or transform major government programs or agencies, among other benefits.

As of December 1, 2021, there are 4659 open recommendations, of which 482 are priority recommendations. Recommendations remain open until they are designated as Closed-implemented or Closed-not implemented.

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1 - 19 of 19 Recommendations
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Chemical Assessments: Annual EPA Survey Inconsistent with Leading Practices in Program Management

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3 Open Recommendations
3 Priority
Agency Recommendation Status
Environmental Protection Agency
Priority Rec.
This is a priority recommendation.
The Administrator of EPA should include in ORD's strategic plan (or subsidiary strategic plans) identification of EPA's universe of chemical assessment needs; how the IRIS Program is being resourced to meet user needs; and specific implementation steps that indicate how IRIS will achieve the plan's objectives, such as specific metrics to define progress in meeting user needs. (Recommendation 5)
Open

As of April 2021, EPA officials indicated that the agency is considering a range of options for improving the nomination of chemicals for IRIS assessments. As we discuss in our December 2020 report, a review of EPA's draft strategic plan, released by the Board of Scientific Counselors in August 2020 showed that it was difficult to determine how the goals outlined in the plan would be accomplished through specific research projects and deliverables. It further noted that the plan did not include a detailed implementation strategy or metrics to define progress in the draft strategic plan

Environmental Protection Agency
Priority Rec.
This is a priority recommendation.
The Administrator should direct the Assistant Administrator of the Office of Research and Development to provide more information publicly about where chemical assessments are in the development process, including internal and external steps in the process, and changes to assessment milestones. (Recommendation 1)
Open

In April 2021, officials from EPA's Office of Research and Development (ORD) indicated that they partially agree with this recommendation and committed to implementing enhancements to ensure programmatic transparency. While EPA officials indicated concern that providing more information could create an additional reporting and management burden that would slow the development of assessments, we believe additional efforts are important. As we stated in our December 2020 report, internal steps of the assessment (agency review, interagency science consultation, revising the assessment based on

Environmental Protection Agency
Priority Rec.
This is a priority recommendation.
The Administrator should direct the Assistant Administrator of the Office of Research and Development to issue criteria for how chemical assessment nominations are selected for inclusion in the IRIS Program's list of assessments in development and provide quality information about such topics as defining high-priority chemicals, prioritizing assessment work, and determining the IRIS Program's capacity to undertake work. (Recommendation 3)
Open

As of April 2021, this recommendation remains open. In its comments on our report, EPA partially agreed with this recommendation but did not believe it merited immediate attention because agency officials stated that they have not rejected any formal nomination that has been submitted since initiating its new process in 2018. As we describe in our report, an understanding of the criteria used for prioritizing chemicals for assessment development can inform staff as they consider which chemicals to nominate. Without information on such things as the program's capacity or how decisions are made

Drinking Water: EPA Could Use Available Data to Better Identify Neighborhoods at Risk of Lead Exposure

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1 Open Recommendations
1 Priority
Agency Recommendation Status
Environmental Protection Agency
Priority Rec.
This is a priority recommendation.
EPA's Assistant Administrator for Water should develop a strategic plan that meets the WIIN Act requirement for providing targeted outreach, education, technical assistance, and risk communication to populations affected by the concentration of lead in public water systems, and that is fully consistent with leading practices for strategic plans. (Recommendation 3)
Open

As of January 2021, in a supplemental letter to GAO, EPA explained its disagreement with the recommendation. EPA stated that it believes the agency has already developed a strategic plan that meets the WIIN Act requirement, through its June 2017 "Strategic Plan for Targeted Outreach to Populations Affected By Lead" and complementary actions required by the Lead and Copper Rule (LCR) Revisions for targeted outreach and education to water system consumers. However, we maintain that this recommendation is warranted and that EPA should implement it because the plan does not discuss all items

Air Pollution: Opportunities to Better Sustain and Modernize the National Air Quality Monitoring System

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2 Open Recommendations
2 Priority
Agency Recommendation Status
Environmental Protection Agency
Priority Rec.
This is a priority recommendation.
The Assistant Administrator of EPA's Office of Air and Radiation, in consultation with state and local agencies, should develop, make public, and implement an asset management framework for consistently sustaining the national ambient air quality monitoring system. Such a framework could be designed for success by considering the key characteristics of effective asset management described in our report, such as identifying the resources needed to sustain the monitoring system, using quality data to manage infrastructure risks, and targeting resources toward assets that provide the greatest value. (Recommendation 1)
Open

In written comments on the report, EPA agreed with the recommendation and said that the agency would work with state, local, and tribal partners on its implementation. As of April 2021, EPA had begun to address the recommendation by presenting the findings from our November 2020 report to and facilitating a discussion with associations representing state and local air quality agencies and tribal organizations. In addition, EPA has committed to various actions to implement the recommendations and established associated timeframes. We will continue to monitor the implementation of this

Environmental Protection Agency
Priority Rec.
This is a priority recommendation.
The Assistant Administrator of EPA's Office of Air and Radiation, in consultation with state and local agencies and other relevant federal agencies, should develop and make public an air quality monitoring modernization plan to better meet the additional information needs of air quality managers, researchers, and the public. Such a plan could address the ongoing challenges in modernizing the national ambient air quality monitoring system by considering leading practices, including establishing priorities and roles, assessing risks to success, identifying the resources needed to achieve goals, and measuring and evaluating progress. (Recommendation 2)
Open

In written comments on the report, EPA agreed with the recommendation and said that the agency would work with state, local, and tribal partners on its implementation. As of April 2021, EPA had begun to address the recommendation by presenting the findings from our November 2020 report to and facilitating a discussion with associations representing state and local air quality agencies and tribal organizations. In addition, EPA has committed to various actions to implement the recommendations and established associated timeframes. We will continue to monitor the implementation of this

Water Infrastructure: Technical Assistance and Climate Resilience Planning Could Help Utilities Prepare for Potential Climate Change Impacts

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1 Open Recommendations
1 Priority
Agency Recommendation Status
Environmental Protection Agency
Priority Rec.
This is a priority recommendation.
The Director of Water Security of EPA, as Chair of the Water Sector Government Coordinating Council, should work with the council to identify existing technical assistance providers and engage these providers in a network to help drinking water and wastewater utilities incorporate climate resilience into their projects and planning on an ongoing basis. (Recommendation 1)
Open

In April 2021, EPA said that it continues to work across the water sector and with its established network to provide technical assistance, knowledge, financing, and other tools to ensure investments made in water infrastructure are sustainable and resilient in the long term. According to EPA, it works within an existing network of technical assistance providers and coordinates with its stakeholders to identify opportunities to provide technical assistance to wastewater and drinking water utilities, as resources are available. While GAO agrees that EPA should continue to work with its

Superfund: EPA Should Take Additional Actions to Manage Risks from Climate Change

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1 Open Recommendations
1 Priority
Agency Recommendation Status
Environmental Protection Agency
Priority Rec.
This is a priority recommendation.
The Administrator of EPA should clarify how EPA's actions to manage risks to human health and the environment from the potential impacts of climate change effects at nonfederal NPL sites align with the agency's current goals and objectives. (Recommendation 2)
Open

In June 2020, EPA stated that it agreed with the recommendation but did not plan to take any action to respond to it because it believed its actions are aligned with agency goals and objectives. In April 2021, EPA stated that it is considering whether to take action responsive to the recommendation. We continue to believe that clarifying this alignment to the agency's current goals and objectives is warranted.

Cybersecurity: Agencies Need to Fully Establish Risk Management Programs and Address Challenges

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1 Open Recommendations
1 Priority
Agency Recommendation Status
Environmental Protection Agency
Priority Rec.
This is a priority recommendation.
The Administrator of EPA should establish a process for conducting an organization-wide cybersecurity risk assessment. (Recommendation 40)
Open

The Environmental Protection Agency did not state whether or not it concurred with this recommendation. While EPA's updated cybersecurity risk management strategy calls for the agency to develop an organization-wide perspective on cybersecurity risks, as of April 2021, the agency had not provided evidence that it had developed a process for aggregating information from system-level risk assessments, continuous monitoring, and other sources to allow the agency to assess the risk from the operation and use of its information systems from an agency-wide perspective. We are continuing to follow up

Critical Infrastructure Protection: Additional Actions Are Essential for Assessing Cybersecurity Framework Adoption

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1 Open Recommendations
1 Priority
Agency Recommendation Status
Environmental Protection Agency
Priority Rec.
This is a priority recommendation.
The Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency should take steps to consult with respective sector partner(s), such as the SCC, DHS and NIST, as appropriate, to develop methods for determining the level and type of framework adoption by entities across their respective sector. (Recommendation 4)
Open

In written comments, EPA did not explicitly state whether it agreed or disagreed with our recommendation, but said that several factors constrain the agency from implementing the recommendation. EPA also said it agrees that a comprehensive assessment of framework adoption within the water sector would assist with evaluating and tailoring efforts to promote its use. Further, the agency stated that it will continue to work with the Water Sector Coordinating Council and sector partners to promote and facilitate adoption of the cybersecurity framework. The agency also suggested options related to

Drinking Water: Additional Data and Statistical Analysis May Enhance EPA's Oversight of the Lead and Copper Rule

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3 Open Recommendations
3 Priority
Agency Recommendation Status
Environmental Protection Agency
Priority Rec.
This is a priority recommendation.
The Assistant Administrator for Water of EPA's Office of Water should require states to report available information about lead pipes to EPA's Safe Drinking Water Information System (SDWIS)/Fed (or a future redesign such as SDWIS Prime) database, in its upcoming revision of the LCR. (Recommendation 1)
Open

On January 15, 2021, EPA issued a final regulation revising the Lead and Copper Rule that, once in effect, would implement this recommendation. The final rule would require states to report quarterly to EPA on the number of lead service lines each public water system in the state has. This rule had an original effective date of March 16, 2021, but it has been extended twice: first, in a rule published on March 12, 2021, the effective date was extended to June 17, 2021; second, in a rule published on June 16, 2021, EPA extended the effective date from June 17, 2021, to December 16, 2021. EPA

Environmental Protection Agency
Priority Rec.
This is a priority recommendation.
The Assistant Administrator for Water of EPA's Office of Water should require states to report all 90th percentile sample results for small water systems to EPA's SDWIS/Fed (or a future redesign such as SDWIS Prime) database, in its upcoming revision of the LCR. (Recommendation 2)
Open

On January 15, 2021, EPA issued a final regulation revising the Lead and Copper Rule that, once in effect, would implement this recommendation. The final rule would require states to report to EPA all 90th percentile lead levels for all size public water systems. The rule doesn't specify how such reporting will occur but EPA officials told us that reporting will be done through SDWIS and that EPA is currently developing a state module for SDWIS for states to use to oversee implementation of the final rule. This rule had an original effective date of March 16, 2021, but it has been extended

Environmental Protection Agency
Priority Rec.
This is a priority recommendation.
The Assistant Administrator for Water of EPA's Office of Water and the Assistant Administrator of EPA's Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance should develop a statistical analysis that incorporates multiple factors--including those currently in SDWIS/Fed and others such as the presence of lead pipes and the use of corrosion control--to identify water systems that might pose a higher likelihood for violating the LCR once complete violations data are obtained, such as through SDWIS Prime. (Recommendation 3)
Open

As of May 2021, we are conducting additional follow-up with EPA staff on the status of these efforts. EPA needs to provide an update on SDWIS modernization or other data plans for identifying violations data associated with water systems that might pose a higher likelihood for violating the Lead and Copper Rule. EPA officials told us the agency is also working to develop an internal resource that will consider a range of data inputs such as historical occurrence of action level exceedances, the number of lead service lines known to be present in a given water system, the proportion of a system

Clean Water Act: Changes Needed If Key EPA Program Is to Help Fulfill the Nation's Water Quality Goals

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1 Open Recommendations
1 Priority
Agency Recommendation Status
Environmental Protection Agency
Priority Rec.
This is a priority recommendation.
To enhance the likelihood that TMDLs support the nation's waters' attainment of water quality standards and to strengthen water quality management, the Administrator of EPA should develop and issue new regulations requiring that TMDLs include additional elements--and consider requiring the elements that are now optional--specifically, elements reflecting key features identified by NRC as necessary for attaining water quality standards, such as comprehensive identification of impairment and plans to monitor water bodies to verify that water quality is improving.
Open

As of June 2020, EPA officials stated that they believe this action has been implemented. They said the agency has taken several actions that change the focus of the total maximum daily loads (TMDL) program to focus efforts on implementing TMDLs. First, EPA developed a TMDL Vision document to focus on integrating and implementing different efforts to restore and protect the nation's aquatic resources. Second, EPA held regional meetings to discuss different TMDL topics such as monitoring, implementation, and reasonable assurance. Included in these discussions were good practices and examples

Chemical Assessments: An Agencywide Strategy May Help EPA Address Unmet Needs for Integrated Risk Information System Assessments

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1 Open Recommendations
1 Priority
Agency Recommendation Status
Environmental Protection Agency
Priority Rec.
This is a priority recommendation.
To ensure that EPA maximizes its limited resources and addresses the statutory, regulatory, and programmatic needs of EPA program offices and regions when IRIS toxicity assessments are not available, and once demand for the IRIS Program is determined, the EPA Administrator should direct the Deputy Administrator, in coordination with EPA's Science Advisor, to develop an agencywide strategy to address the unmet needs of EPA program offices and regions that includes, at a minimum: (1) coordination across EPA offices and with other federal research agencies to help identify and fill data gaps that preclude the agency from conducting IRIS toxicity assessments, and (2) guidance that describes alternative sources of toxicity information and when it would be appropriate to use them when IRIS values are not available, applicable, or current.
Open

As of April 2021, the IRIS Program needs to focus on user needs for chemical assessments, issue guidance and provide documentation on alternative sources of toxicity information when IRIS values are unavailable. Officials indicated that they intend to hold coordination meetings with key program offices to discuss chemical assessments to meet agency needs. We reported in December 2020 that while the total number of chemicals nominated for assessment in 2018 was more than 50, in 2020 the IRIS Program was only working on 15 assessments. Additionally, program and regional officials do not have EPA

Toxic Substances: EPA Has Increased Efforts to Assess and Control Chemicals but Could Strengthen Its Approach

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1 Open Recommendations
1 Priority
Agency Recommendation Status
Environmental Protection Agency
Priority Rec.
This is a priority recommendation.
To better position EPA to collect chemical toxicity and exposure-related data and ensure chemical safety under existing TSCA authority, while balancing its workload, and to better position EPA to ensure chemical safety under existing TSCA authority, the Administrator of EPA should direct the appropriate offices to develop strategies for addressing challenges that impede the agency's ability to meet its goal of ensuring chemical safety. At a minimum, the strategies should address challenges associated with: (1) obtaining toxicity and exposure data needed to conduct ongoing and future TSCA Work Plan risk assessments, (2) gaining access to toxicity and exposure data provided to the European Chemicals Agency, (3) working with processors and processor associations to obtain exposure-related data, (4) banning or limiting the use of chemicals under section 6 of TSCA and planned actions for overcoming these challenges--including a description of other actions the agency plans to pursue in lieu of banning or limiting the use of chemicals, and (5) identifying the resources needed to conduct risk assessments and implement risk management decisions in order to meet its goal of ensuring chemical safety.
Open

As of April 2021, we are limiting attention to item (5) of the recommendation, which is focused on identifying resources needed to conduct risk assessments and implement risk management decisions. EPA indicated that OPPT has committed to conducting a workforce analysis to accurately assess its capability to implement the requirements of TSCA and specify what skill gaps must be filled and how to fill them. However, until we see a workforce plan, and information on human capital and other resources (budget, etc.) required by OPPT to implement TSCA according to the schedule laid out in the 2016

Chemical Assessments: Challenges Remain with EPA's Integrated Risk Information System Program

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1 Open Recommendations
1 Priority
Agency Recommendation Status
Environmental Protection Agency
Priority Rec.
This is a priority recommendation.
To better ensure the credibility of IRIS assessments by enhancing their timeliness and certainty, the EPA Administrator should require the Office of Research and Development, should different time frames be necessary, to establish a written policy that clearly describes the applicability of the time frames for each type of IRIS assessment and ensures that the time frames are realistic and provide greater predictability to stakeholders.
Open

As of April 2021, we have not seen formal written documentation from the IRIS Program describing how timelines for assessments are influenced by various criteria. As of April 2021, EPA is including information in its Integrated Assessment Plans and Systematic Review Protocols that indicate the complexity of the assessment. EPA is also including information on timeframes for assessment completion in its IRIS Program Outlooks. However, EPA has not provided information that helps stakeholders assess whether the timeframes are reflective of the complexity documented. For example, we have not seen

Drinking Water: Unreliable State Data Limit EPA's Ability to Target Enforcement Priorities and Communicate Water Systems' Performance

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1 Open Recommendations
1 Priority
Agency Recommendation Status
Environmental Protection Agency
Priority Rec.
This is a priority recommendation.
To improve EPA's ability to oversee the states' implementation of the Safe Drinking Water Act and provide Congress and the public with more complete and accurate information on compliance, the Administrator of EPA should resume data verification audits to routinely evaluate the quality of selected drinking water data on health-based and monitoring violations that the states provide to EPA. These audits should also evaluate the quality of data on the enforcement actions that states and other primacy agencies have taken to correct violations.
Open

As of April 2021, EPA indicated that it was not resuming data verification audits but was taking other actions to improve the agency's ability to oversee the quality of drinking water data that states provide to EPA. For example, the agency was conducting file reviews in at least 10 states annually to verify the reliability of data and to identify opportunities for implementation improvements. Nevertheless, the extent to which EPA's file reviews and other actions determine the completeness and accuracy of the Safe Drinking Water Information System (SDWIS) data overall is unclear. Additional

Chemical Assessments: Low Productivity and New Interagency Review Process Limit the Usefulness and Credibility of EPA's Integrated Risk Information System

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1 Open Recommendations
1 Priority
Agency Recommendation Status
Environmental Protection Agency
Priority Rec.
This is a priority recommendation.
To develop timely chemical risk information that EPA needs to effectively conduct its mission, the Administrator, EPA, should require the Office of Research and Development to re-evaluate its draft proposed changes to the IRIS assessment process in light of the issues raised in this report and ensure that any revised process periodically assesses the level of resources that should be dedicated to this significant program to meet user needs and maintain a viable IRIS database.
Open

As of April 2021, this recommendation remains open. EPA officials indicated that agency leadership is working to initiate the new cycle of strategic planning and will use the nomination process to understand the Agency's assessment needs as the starting point for making informed decisions on resources. EPA re-administered the September 2020 request for FY 2021 nominations using a modified process that the agency believes better engages the Regions and other offices in EPA that do not oversee statutory decision making, i.e., the Office of Children's Health Protection. A workforce plan that

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