U.S. GAO: Environmental Protection: Additional Action Needed to Improve EPA Data on Informal Enforcement and Compliance Assistance Activities

Why GAO Did This Study

“… GAO was asked to review EPA’s enforcement efforts. This report examines, among other objectives, the types of information EPA collects on its compliance assistance, compliance monitoring, and enforcement actions. GAO analyzed written responses to its questions from all 10 regional offices, reviewed agency documents and databases, and interviewed EPA officials in headquarters and regional offices.”

What GAO Found

“The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) collects a range of information on compliance and enforcement such as data on inspections, violations, and enforcement actions. The agency uses these data to manage its efforts and assess progress in meeting the agency’s strategic objectives. In an August 2018 memorandum, EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance (OECA) reported a key strategic change to increase compliance assistance activities (e.g., training) and informal enforcement actions (e.g., warning letters). However, the agency does not consistently collect or maintain data on either type of action (see figure). Specifically, OECA has not directed regional offices to collect or report data on compliance assistance activities since 2012 and, consequently, does not have guidance instructing regional offices to collect such data and specifying which mechanism offices should use to maintain these data. Also, the agency did not provide guidance to those offices defining informal enforcement actions or how to maintain data on them until September 30, 2019, but the guidance does not specify how to collect data on such actions. By clearly documenting in guidance how the offices should use the definition to collect data on such actions, EPA could more consistently collect these data.”

“As the figure shows, OECA does not require regional offices to collect data on compliance assistance or complete data on informal enforcement actions. Having complete information about its compliance assistance activities and informal enforcement is essential because EPA has elevated the role of such activities in its overall enforcement efforts. However, because EPA is not consistently collecting these data, the agency cannot be sure it is achieving its strategic objectives…”What GAO Recommends

“GAO is making three recommendations to EPA, including that it should clearly document in guidance to its regional offices that they should collect data on compliance assistance activities and informal enforcement actions and specify which mechanism to use to maintain compliance assistance data. EPA agreed with GAO’s recommendations and stated that the agency has either begun to or plans to implement them.” Access the full 35-page report here.

Source: U.S. GAO – Environmental Protection: Additional Action Needed to Improve EPA Data on Informal Enforcement and Compliance Assistance Activities – March 2, 2020. U.S. GAO.

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