EPA plagued with poor budgetary and workforce organization, GAO reports

The Environmental Protection Agency has struggled to produce accurate budget reports and deploy its workforce in an efficient manner, the Government Accountability Office reported this week.

In studies conducted from 2009 to 2011, EPA "has struggled for years to identify its human resource needs and to deploy its staff throughout the agency in a manner that would do the most good," stated the GAO report released Wednesday. The government watchdog also found the department consistently failed to provide detailed budget justifications to Congress and did not make proper use of "unliquidated balances," or funds that were appropriated to EPA but not spent.

GAO found that EPA and six other federal agencies had in 2009 independently funded water and wastewater projects along the U.S.-Mexico border, creating an overlap of resources through a lack of organizational oversight. By 2010, EPA had not yet fully completed a strategic plan to identify a timeline and implementation goals for its libraries, the report said.

Additionally, despite reporting to the Office of Management and Budget in 2010 that it did not anticipate closing any of its 37 nationwide laboratories in the near future because they were all critical to the department's success as a whole, EPA could not present accurate and reliable information to OMB on the conditions of each of its 170 facilities or how they were being used. GAO also reported that EPA did not possess demographic data on the number of federal and contract employees working in its laboratories.

GAO made several recommendations to EPA, including calls to improve its physical infrastructure, implement a better monitoring program for its workforce goals, complete its library network strategic plan, and address workforce and workload planning decisions. EPA agreed with GAO's recommendations.

On the subject of EPA's budget justifications, GAO did not issue a formal recommendation but said more accurate and reliable documents would be "useful to Congress." GAO has urged EPA in years past to recover money from expired contracts and other sources, so that the department could then reuse it on future budgets, offsetting the need for new funding. Though EPA reclaimed $163 million in 2010, it did not report this amount on its budget justification documents.

GAO said it would "report on the most significant instances of duplication, overlap, or fragmentation" throughout all federal agencies, including EPA, in its 2012 and 2013 annual reports. These reports will reassess EPA's efficiency efforts.

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