EPA:

Agency lags by years on dozens of IG recommendations

U.S. EPA has still not implemented recommendations from the agency's inspector general that stretch as far back as 2001, according to a recent IG review.

Most of the recommendations listed in the semiannual Compendium of Unimplemented Recommendations are from investigations and audits completed in the past three years. In total, EPA officials have missed the deadlines for recommendations from seven reports; the timelines for recommendations from 54 additional reports have been extended.

In the latter category, EPA is still working on implementing several recommendations that are more than five years old. For example, officials have yet to act on a 2001 recommendation to modernize the Permit Compliance System for the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System.

That decade-old report found that state enforcement of discharge permits -- which limit pollutants in surface water -- could be "much more effective in deterring noncompliance." EPA now has until Sept. 30, 2012, to fulfill the recommendation.

Another past-due recommendation stems from a 2007 report that new development was increasing nutrient and sediment loads in the Chesapeake Bay faster than restoration efforts were reducing them. IG officials recommended that EPA's Region 3 administrator "implement a strategy that demonstrates leadership" in reducing that trend.

EPA officials agreed to issue an annual report on their progress, according to the compendium report. But after an initial report in April 2010, EPA has yet to submit a second one.

Another recommendation -- issued in 2009 -- relates to EPA's enforcement of Section 404 of the Clean Water Act, which allows the agency to prevent the dredging of wetlands. IG officials criticized EPA for not having a comprehensive enforcement strategy.

"Primarily because of its limited field presence related to S. 404 violations, EPA identifies violations through a passive, reactive method of relying on complaints and referrals from external sources," IG officials wrote. "An incomplete national data system and sporadic coordination with federal and State partners further impair EPA's ability to maintain an effective S. 404 enforcement program."

Despite indicating that a final draft would be complete last January, the policy still has not been released, according to the IG.

In a statement, EPA officials said they take the recommendations seriously "and, as the report notes, we have taken action on a number of them."

"EPA remains committed to working with the Inspector General to implement recommendations that will help the Agency meets its mission of protecting public health and the environment," they said.

Future investigations

As EPA officials work to act on past recommendations, they're also sure to get many more over the next year. The IG is planning reviews of everything from the accuracy of mobile source models to EPA's protection of human health from the effects of hydraulic fracturing.

In an annual plan released Friday, Elkins outlined his office's planned audits and investigations for fiscal 2012. Most address the agency's top management challenges: coordination of environmental efforts, oversight of state programs, the safe reuse of contaminated sites, response to cybersecurity attacks, and the framework for managing chemical risks.

Specifically, IG officials will review, among other things, the agency's oversight of Clean Air Act Title V fees, its regulatory reform efforts and its ability to safeguard the nation's water supply in an attack or natural disaster.

Officials will also begin a slew of audits on programs funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The office received $20 million in the Recovery Act to review stimulus-funded programs from fiscal 2009 through fiscal 2012.

Click here for the IG's Compendium of Unimplemented Recommendations.

Click here for the IG's annual plan.

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