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GAO Calls for Better EPA-USDA Funding Coordination

Under their charge to “identify and report on duplicative goals or activities in the federal government,” Congress’ Government Accountability Office (GAO) has completed a review of Federal funding coordination between EPA’s DWSRF and CWSRF programs and the USDA Rural Utilities Service (RUS) water/wastewater loan and grant program.  According to the Report, these three programs have, in part, “an overlapping purpose to fund projects in rural communities with populations of 10,000 or less.”  In summary, the GAO Report finds that there is potential for “communities to complete duplicate funding applications and related documents when applying for funding from both agencies…completing separate engineering reports and environmental analyses is duplicative and can result in delays and increased costs to communities applying to both programs.”

GAO offered three recommendations for improvement to both EPA and USDA:

  • Ensure the timely completion of the interagency effort to develop guidelines to assist states in developing their own uniform preliminary engineering reports to meet federal and state requirements;
  • Work together and with state and community officials to develop guidelines to assist states in developing uniform environmental analyses that could be used, to the extent appropriate, to meet state and federal requirements for water and wastewater infrastructure projects; and
  • Work together and with state and community officials through conferences and workshops, webinars, and sponsored training to reemphasize the importance of coordinating in all four key areas in the 1997 memorandum*.

*This memorandum between EPA and USDA called for encouragement of state level programs and communities to coordinate in four key areas:  program planning; policy and regulatory barriers; project funding; and environmental analyses and other common federal requirements.

In responding to the Report, EPA noted that, for the first recommendation, the Agency supports the intent of the recommendation “but noted that it does not have the authority to require states to adopt a required format and that some states may not utilize it.”  On the second recommendation, EPA agreed in principle, but said, “it is not realistic to develop a one-size-fits-all approach” and suggested that developing “essential elements” for environmental analyses may be more effective.  EPA did concur with the third recommendation and that “state level coordination should be encouraged more broadly.”

The Report, titled Rural Water Infrastructure:  Additional Coordination Can Help Avoid Potentially Duplicative Application Requirements, (GAO-13-111) can be found on the GAO website at:  http://www.gao.gov/assets/650/649553.pdf.