EPA OIG Identifies FY 2017 Management Challenges

The Reports Consolidation Act of 2000 requires EPA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) to annually report on the most serious management and performance challenges facing the agency.  The report released this week identified the following challenges:

  • The EPA Needs to Improve Oversight of States, Territories and Tribes Authorized to Accomplish Environmental Goals
  • The EPA Needs to Improve Its Workload Analysis to Accomplish Its Mission Efficiently and Effectively
  • The EPA Needs to Enhance Information Technology Security to Combat Cyber Threats

State drinking water programs will be most interested in the findings related to the first challenge on agency oversight of states. “In recent years, our work has identified the absence of robust oversight by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of states, territories and tribes authorized to implement environmental programs under several statutes. The EPA has made important progress, but recent and ongoing EPA Office of Inspector General (OIG) and U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) work continues to support this as an agency management challenge.”
The report recognized the many states, territories and tribes that have primacy for the SDWA.  The OIG also noted the critical role these agencies perform in supporting EPA’s implementation and enforcement of the Act. However, the EPA has the authority and responsibility to enforce environmental laws when states, territories and tribes do not.  The IG noted that EPA programs implement a variety of formal and informal oversight processes that are not always consistent across EPA regions and the states, territories and tribes.
The OIG recognized that progress has been made in this area.  For drinking water, they documented corrective actions to address recommendations from a July 2014 report on Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF) unliquidated balances.  However, they point out that those actions had not reduced DWSRF unliquidated balances to below 13 percent of the cumulative federal capitalization grants awarded, which was the goal of the effort.
EPA still fails to meet three criteria required to justify removal of this oversight challenge: (1) an action plan, (2) monitoring efforts, and (3) demonstrated progress. Specifically,

  • “EPA leadership needs to demonstrate an organizational commitment to correcting problems with the agency’s oversight of key state programs designed to protect human health and the environment.”
  • “the agency should show it has the capacity and has developed a framework for addressing oversight issues.”
  • “The agency also needs to develop a system for monitoring state, tribal and territory oversight effectiveness so that it can work toward demonstrating its progress in correcting this management challenge.”

To further support their position that EPA still has work to do, the OIG referenced a number of reports where EPA has not yet fulfilled all the recommendations.  These include the 2016 report on Region 5’s actions in Flint, Michigan; a 2015 report concerning the US Virgin Islands implementation of many environmental acts including the SDWA; and GAO reports related to the Underground Injection Control Program and DWSRF financial indicators.
This report provides further impetus to the EPA’s goal of improved state program oversight as outlined in their Drinking Water Action Plan.