The Environmental Protection Agency will have difficulty collecting the environmental measures it needs to comply with the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA), the General Accounting Office has concluded in a new study.
EPA's difficulties highlight the problems many regulatory agencies will face when they try to develop performance measures to demonstrate they are meeting the goals they set in strategic plans that they are scheduled to submit to Congress in September. GPRA requires every agency to create a strategic plan that outlines the agency's overall mission and the goals it will achieve each year to support that mission. GAO said it may take years before reliable environmental data can be gathered to measure the effectiveness of EPA programs.
"Much effort is still required to identify, develop and agree on a comprehensive set of environmental measures to link the agency's activities to changes in environmental conditions," GAO said. "Without environmental measures, EPA has to rely solely on administrative measures, such as the number of permits isued or inspections made, to measure its performance or success."
Under GPRA, agencies must submit their strategic plans to Congress by September 30. They must also submit annual performance plans. The first performance plan, for fiscal year 1999, must be sent to the Office of Management and Budget this fall. Agencies will then have to report back to OMB and Congress with data demonstrating whether they met the goals outlined in their performance plans. Though EPA has been developing strategies to meet the GPRA requirements since July 1995, it is not clear if the agency will be able to meet the deadlines GPRA sets out.
"Although EPA is making progress toward developing a strategic plan, it has not completed two studies that are intended to identify the most appropriate goals for the agency and to provide the latest scientific information on environmental risk," GAO said. EPA estimates the studies will be completed late this year or early in 1998.
EPA has to create an integrated way of measuring environmental data, GAO said. A National Academy of Public Administration study found that EPA has more than 500 information systems and each of its program offices has its own way of collecting data. EPA also relies on data compiled by other federal agencies and states, which in turn have their own ways of collecting data.
Even if EPA does integrate its data collection, GAO noted that it will be difficult for the agency to link its activities to changes in the environment because outside factors, like changes in weather patterns, often affect environmental conditions.