Lack of funding, resources limit EPA enforcement, IG finds
Years of resource deficiencies and management neglect have prevented EPA enforcement staff from pursuing large numbers of criminal investigations and made it impossible to accurately assess the agency's criminal funding and resource needs, the agency's inspector general has found.
The report represents a vindication for EPA criminal enforcement agents, who in recent months have criticized the agency's top brass for what they charge has been a pattern of management neglect.
Although the inspector general's report found that criminal investigators have continued to bring enforcement actions against violators, a lack of basic funding and resource tracking systems and increased workloads have made it impossible for IG investigators to determine whether EPA should be investing more in the program.
The report was requested by Senate Environment and Public Works Committee ranking member James Jeffords, I-Vt., and House and Senate Democrats, including House Energy and Commerce ranking member John Dingell, D-Mich., in response to articles in CongressDaily and The Sacramento Bee highlighting internal EPA complaints of resource inadequacies and upper management neglect.
Calling on the Bush administration to boost enforcement funding, Jeffords charged EPA has seriously undercut the criminal office's ability to adequately enforce federal environmental laws.
"I am very concerned that we are under-funding enforcement of the nation's environmental laws," Jeffords said in a statement. "The report details the fact that field agents continue to lack such basic items as digital radios and a secure data network. They also have no say on how their enforcement needs are reflected in the agency's budget."
Jeffords asked: "What message are we sending to the nation's polluters if the enforcers of our environmental laws openly admit they will not open a new case if they believe they do not have adequate resources to handle it?"
The IG found that chronic resource shortfalls often have forced criminal investigators to forgo opening cases, resulting in the office referring many of those complaints to already overburdened state and local officials, as well as the agency's civil enforcement program.
For instance, EPA investigators estimated that in fiscal 2002, 49 percent of cases were referred, while 21 percent were being dropped altogether.
However, because the agency "does not have an automated tracking system for leads, or know the number of leads transferred to others due to lack of resources," a precise total is unknown.
The IG also found that agent requests for additional resources--computers, flashlights and digital radios--have yet to be addressed, and that top level EPA officials have consistently denied these requests in recent years.
The report notes that although criminal agents have provided officials with needs requests, because funding decisions are made through a "top down" process, those requests have typically been ignored.