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September 12, 2017
EPA has not acted on 127 GAO recommendations

In a report released September 6, 2017, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) states that the EPA has implemented 191 of the 318 recommendations the GAO has directed at the Agency since 2007. According to the GAO, the recommendations fall into six broad categories: (1) management and operations; (2) water issues, which include water infrastructure, drinking water, water quality, and ecosystem restoration; (3) environmental contamination and cleanup, pollution prevention, hazardous and other waste programs, and emergency management; (4) toxics, chemical safety, and pesticides; (5) public health and environmental justice; and (6) air quality, climate change, and energy efficiency.

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Most of the recommendations that have not yet been implemented concern EPA management and operations and water issues, says the GAO.

Recommendations should be implemented

The GAO says that all its recommendations to federal agencies result in substantial benefits for the U.S. taxpayer by improving the government’s efficiency, effectiveness, and accountability. For example, in fiscal year 2016, the GAO says that its work across the federal government resulted in $63.4 billion in financial benefits. Also in 2016, 1,234 other benefits that resulted from GAO’s work that could not be measured in dollar terms led to program and operational improvements to the federal government.

In terms of environmental programs, the GAO points to reports it began issuing in 1994 on the insufficient authority the EPA possessed under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) to regulate dangerous chemicals in commerce. The GAO added that these reports, combined with the “work of others,” persuaded Congress to pass sweeping TSCA amendments in 2016. The amendments gave the Agency greater authority to implement “several of our outstanding recommendations … and positioned the agency to better protect public health and the environment from the risks posed by toxic chemicals.”

Recommendations in waiting

The percentage of recommendations implemented by the EPA within each category ranged from 80 percent for the environmental contamination and cleanup category to 48 percent in the management and operations category, says the GAO. Of the 127 recommendations the EPA has not implemented, the GAO made 82, or 65 percent, since 2013 and 45, or 35 percent, earlier (i.e., 2007 to 2012). Examples of GAO recommendations the EPA has not yet implemented include.

  • Developing documented processes EPA offices could use to collect and analyze data about grants management workloads and conducting reviews of the critical skills and competencies of project officers making grant decisions;
  • Taking steps to ensure the security of computer systems used by contractors the EPA hires who have access to EPA data; and
  • Providing thorough guidance to EPA regional offices on overseeing state nonpoint source water pollution programs.

Children’s health risks

Recommendations by the GAO the EPA has put into action include implementing a process agency program offices then use to document their actions including consideration of health risks specific to children and including consideration of advanced treatment technologies in new or revised Clean Water Act effluent guidelines for industrial categories of wastewater pollution.

“We believe that EPA’s implementation of our outstanding recommendations will enable the agency to continue to improve its performance and the efficiency and effectiveness of its operations,” the GAO concludes.

GAO’s report is here.

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