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GAO Examines EPA’s Management and Monitoring of State Grants

In a recent report, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) described their evaluation of EPA’s grant management and monitoring of performance, and made specific recommendations on how to improve EPA’s practices.  Implementing the report’s recommendations could potentially reduce burden on both EPA and the grantees, including state drinking water programs.
As part of their review of EPA’s grant activities, GAO examined the Drinking Water SRF and the PWSS grant, among many others.  They interviewed ECOS representatives and eight states as part of their review.  GAO recognized improvement in grant management practices since prior GAO audits through adoption of more electronic reporting and implementation of previous recommendations.  In this evaluation, GAO identified duplication of reporting where states submitted reports for one purpose and submitted the same data again for a different purpose.  GAO found that narrative reports which require manual review tend to consume more resources and don’t lend themselves to efficient quality control.   These reports are also not easily searchable in an electronic database, so they’re not readily available for review by others.  In addition, GAO identified some grants where performance was difficult to measure because states did not submit sufficient data on outputs and outcomes.  An internal problem was identified for the Office of Water, where water data had to be transferred manually to an agency-wide EPA data system.  As a result of this audit, GAO recommended that EPA take the following six actions:

  • Incorporate expanded search capability features, such as keyword searches, into its proposed web-based portal for collecting and accessing performance reports to improve their accessibility.
  • Identify grant programs where existing program-specific data reporting can meet EPA’s performance reporting requirements for grants management purposes to reduce duplicative reporting by grantees.
  • Once EPA’s new performance system is in place, ensure that the Office of Water adopts software tools, as appropriate, to electronically transfer relevant data on program results from program-specific databases to EPA’s national performance system.
  • Clarify the factors project officers should consider when determining whether performance reports are consistent with EPA’s environmental results directive.
  • Expand aspects of EPA’s policy for certain categorical grants; specifically, the call for an explicit reference to the planned results in grantees’ work plans and their projected time frames for completion, to all grants.
  • Incorporate built-in data quality controls for performance reports into the planned web-based portal based on EPA’s environmental results directive.

EPA agreed with the findings and the recommendations made by GAO.  While implementing the recommendations may change reporting practices and create some short term challenges for states, full implementation of the recommendations has the potential to reduce long term reporting burden.  See the full report and a report summary on the GAO website.