Major Management Challenges at the Environmental Protection Agency
Overall, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has made some progress in addressing the six management challenges that GAO identified in 2003.
EPA has made some progress in addressing critical data gaps in the agency's environmental information, although GAO's work shows that the agency still has further to go in obtaining the data it needs to manage for environmental results. Under its recent Environmental Indicators Initiative, EPA is seeking to obtain the data necessary to provide a coherent picture of the nation's environment. This effort is also intended to eventually result in data improvements that will be useful in making decisions related to strategic planning, resource allocations, and program management. EPA's initiative thus far has resulted in the publication of a Draft Report on the Environment 2003 , a noteworthy product that presents a first-ever national picture of the U.S. environment and describes what EPA knows—and does not know—about the current state of the environment at the national level and how the environment is changing. However, as noted by EPA's two scientific advisory organizations—the Science Advisory Board and the National Advisory Council for Environmental Policy and Technology—data problems limit national indicators of environmental conditions and trends from being fully developed. GAO recently reported that of EPA's 146 national indicators, 102, or 70 percent, do not have sufficient data. GAO recommended that to build on its initial efforts to fill critical gaps in environmental data, EPA should establish clear lines of responsibility and accountability among the agency's various organizational components, and identify specific requirements for developing and using environmental indicators.
EPA has made substantial progress to improve its information system security by (1) implementing a process to develop information sufficient for verifying the effectiveness of EPA's Information Security Program, (2) developing a security training program for EPA employees, (3) incorporating information security processes in the life-cycle policies and procedures for information systems, and (4) establishing a policy and management framework to support the development and testing of up-to-date contingency plans for agency information systems. In addition, for the first time, EPA earned a “green” score under the President's Management Agenda for e-government for controls and processes related to information security management. Although substantial improvements have been made, EPA needs to continue to emphasize information security by ensuring that the efforts it has initiated are carried forward and consistently implemented.
EPA had made some progress in improving its human capital management. However, the agency still has not taken the actions that GAO recommended to comprehensively assess its workforce—how many employees it needs to accomplish its mission, what technical skills are required, and how best to allocate employees among EPA's strategic goals and geographic locations. EPA's human capital strategic plan was designed to ensure a systematic process for identifying the agency's human capital requirements to meet strategic goals. Furthermore, EPA's strategic plan for fiscal years 2003 through 2008 includes a cross-goal strategy that links the plan to the agency's human capital strategy. Despite such progress, EPA recognizes that the implementation of the human capital strategic plan is a challenge, and that the agency needs to continue monitoring progress in developing a system that will ensure a well-trained and motivated workforce with the right mix of skills and experience.
EPA has invested considerable time and resources in a variety of regulatory innovation initiatives to encourage more effective and cost-effective environmental protection activities. Under its innovation strategy, which is part of the agency's strategic plan for fiscal years 2003 through 2008, EPA has made some progress by committing to develop a system that puts more emphasis on results; that focuses on environmental responsibility, not just pollution control; and that uses multimedia approaches to address problems comprehensively rather than piecemeal. While these efforts are promising, to reach its vision for innovation in environmental management, EPA needs to address a number of management challenges, including maintaining baseline environmental protections while still creating room for experimentation.
EPA has faced persistent challenges for many years in grants planning and management. Such grants constitute over one-half of the agency's budget, or about $4 billion annually. EPA has made some progress in addressing long-standing problems in managing its grants by issuing a 5-year grants management plan in 2003. The plan is comprehensive in that it focuses on the four major management challenges—grantee selection, oversight, environmental results, and resources—that GAO identified in its work. The plan establishes goals, objectives, and performance measures for addressing these major challenges, which EPA has begun implementing. Although the plan lays out a road map for improving grants management, successful implementation of the new plan will require sustained commitment of managers and staff and enhanced accountability. It is critical that the agency demonstrate that it is achieving results from its $4 billion annual investment in grants. But, in 2004, GAO found that EPA is continuing to have problems linking grants to environmental results. Given EPA's uneven performance in addressing its grants management problems to this point, congressional oversight is important to ensure that the EPA Administrator, other senior managers, and staff implement the grants management plan. Consequently, GAO recommended that EPA strengthen its grants management procedures, specifically in overseeing grantees, measuring environmental outcomes, incorporating accountability for grants management responsibilities, considering promising practices, and reporting on the progress of its efforts in its annual report to the Congress.
In issuing an opinion on EPA's consolidated financial statements for fiscal year 2001, the EPA Inspector General identified three internal control weaknesses that EPA needed to address in order to improve its ability to process, summarize, and report financial data. Although EPA has made some progress by taking corrective action on two of its financial reporting weaknesses, the Inspector General's latest report on EPA's fiscal year 2004 financial statements noted that the agency's Integrated Financial Management System (IFMS) still does not enable the Inspector General to assess the adequacy of the automated application control structure as it relates to automated input, processing, and output controls. Furthermore, EPA has no plans to update the IFMS documentation until it implements a new financial software package in fiscal year 2008. Thus, until this system is in place, it is not possible for the Inspector General to assess the adequacy of the agency's automated internal control structure.
Related GAO Products
Environmental Indicators: Better Coordination Is Needed to Develop Environmental Indicator Sets That Inform Decisions . GAO-05-52 . Washington, D.C.: November 17, 2004.
Survey on Environmental Indicator Sets . GAO-05-56SP . Washington, D.C.: November 17, 2004.
Great Lakes: Organizational Leadership and Restoration Goals Need to Be Better Defined for Monitoring Restoration Progress. GAO-04-1024 . Washington, D.C.: September 28, 2004.
Environmental Disclosure: SEC Should Explore Ways to Improve Tracking and Transparency of Information. GAO-04-808 . Washington, D.C.: July 14, 2004.
Watershed Management: Better Coordination of Data Collection Efforts Needed to Support Key Decisions. GAO-04-382 . Washington, D.C.: June 7, 2004.
Great Lakes: A Comprehensive Strategy and Monitoring System Are Needed to Achieve Restoration Goals. GAO-04-782T . Washington, D.C.: May 21, 2004.
Clean Air Act: New Source Review Revisions Could Affect Enforcement Cases and Public Access to Emissions Data. GAO-04-58 . Washington, D.C.: October 21, 2003.
Clean Air Act: EPA Should Use Available Data to Monitor the Effects of Its Revisions to the New Source Review Program. GAO-03-947 . Washington, D.C.: August 22, 2003 .
Great Lakes Restoration: A Coordinated Strategic Plan and Monitoring System Are Needed to Achieve Restoration Goals. GAO-03-999T . Washington, D.C.: July 16, 2003.
Great Lakes: An Overall Strategy and Indicators for Measuring Progress Are Needed to Better Achieve Restoration Goals . GAO-03-515 . Washington, D.C.: April 30, 2003.
Information Technology Management: Governmentwide Strategic Planning Performance Measurement and Investment Management Can Be Further Improved . GAO-04-49 . Washington, D.C.: January 12, 2004.
EPA Grants Management
Grants Management: EPA Continues to Have Problems Linking Grants to Environmental Results . GAO-04-983T . Washington, D.C.: July 20, 2004.
Grants Management: EPA Needs to Better Document Its Decisions for Choosing between Grants and Contracts. GAO-04-459 . Washington, D.C.: March 31, 2004.
Grants Management: EPA Needs to Strengthen Efforts to Address Management Challenges. GAO-04-510T . Washington, D.C.: March 3, 2004.
Grants Management: EPA Actions Taken Against Nonprofit Grant Recipients in 2002. GAO-04-383R . Washington, D.C.: January 30, 2004.
Grants Management: EPA Needs to Strengthen Oversight and Enhance Accountability to Address Persistent Challenges. GAO-04-122T . Washington, D.C.: October 1, 2003.
Grants Management: EPA Needs to Strengthen Efforts to Address Persistent Challenges. GAO-03-846 . Washington, D.C.: August 29, 2003.
Environmental Protection Agency: Problems Persist in Effectively Managing Grants. GAO-03-628T . Washington, D.C.: June 11, 2003.