Report urges management overhaul at EPA

The Bush administration should adopt a performance-based approach in its enforcement of environmental measures to improve management at the EPA, according to a report released last week by several "good government" organizations.

The report, Managing for Results at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, is the product of an "EPA transition dialogue" held by the Reason Public Policy Institute and other groups in October. Thirty-five experts representing a range of views on environmental protection participated in the one-day program, which produced 18 management reform recommendations for the new administration and the 107th Congress.

While experts at the program suggested a variety of actions to improve management and program performance at EPA, most agreed that the agency must commit to outcome-based performance measures to achieve better management.

"The clear establishment of performance measures has to be the principal starting point for any management reform," said Carl DeMaio, director of government redesign at the Reason Institute and project director of the dialogue program.

In early 1997, EPA began to examine alternatives to its traditional method of measuring performance, which involved counting the number of enforcement actions it filed and how much it collected in fines. But EPA still needs to adopt outcome measures that quantify the environmental effects of its programs, the report said. Experts also stressed the need for better data to track the effects of agency enforcement programs.

"The fact is that [EPA] is disabled now," said James Seif, secretary of the Pennsylvania department of environmental protection, at a press conference announcing the report. "What we need is data. Stakeholders of the Department of Labor can argue over the facts. We spend time arguing over what the facts are," he said.

The report identified several steps the Bush administration can take to improve the credibility of EPA data and internal management. Participants suggested the appointment of a "science czar" to oversee science throughout the agency and called for the creation of an independent Bureau of Environmental Information and Statistics to furnish reliable data. Experts also recommended that enforcement activities be integrated back into each program area and suggested that management and information functions within EPA be made into a single office.

"The mistake made by the Clinton administration is erosion of the management and the policy functions. We now have … the Chief Financial Officer, we now have the Office of Environmental Information, and we have the Office of Policy Reinvention. They all need to be united into a mini [Office of Management and Budget] within EPA," said a participant in the program.

Other recommendations made by the experts include:

  • Enhance efforts to improve coordination across federal agencies in environmental protection efforts.
  • Establish a performance-based personnel management system with an emphasis on human capital planning.
  • Examine the balance between internal financial controls and customer service in agency grant and contract management processes.
While several speakers at the press conference emphasized that improving performance and management at EPA is a bipartisan issue, national environmental groups, such as the Sierra Club, did not elect to participate in the October program. Experts said that some EPA management reforms could go forward without input from major environmental groups, but stressed the participation of all stakeholders is crucial to achieving lasting change at the agency.

"They're going to need to be part of this," said Debra Knopman, director of the center for innovation and the environment at the Progressive Policy Institute. "You can't do these management things in a vacuum. [Their success] depends on what stakeholders view as your motives."

Other experts pointed to an emerging consensus on how to overhaul management at EPA. There are numerous similarities between the program's report and the recent General Accounting Office report on management challenges at EPA, according to Robbie Roberts, executive director of the Environmental Council of the States.

"For the first time, there is a great deal of agreement on what needs to be done. If we can get enough critical mass, we can begin to turn the organization around," said Roberts.

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