WASHINGTON - August 24 - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is unable to reliably assess the state of the environment or gauge its own effectiveness, according to a compilation of outside reviews by the agency’s Inspector General released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Unfortunately, these weak spots will likely suffer further from pending Bush administration budget cuts.
Dated August 16, 2006, the report by the EPA Office of Inspector General was done at the request of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works with an eye toward possible reorganization of the agency. The report assembles all recent reviews of agency organization and effectiveness conducted by entities such as the National Academy of Public Administration, the Government Accountability Office, as well as other private and public assessments.
The overwhelming consensus of these reviews was that inadequate information and fragmented scientific work precluded meaningful evaluation of both EPA’s present structure as well as possible reorganizations. Troubling findings cited by the Inspector General include –
- “EPA does not have the data to support its positions on the state of the environment or to measure the success of its programs”;
- “EPA’s information systems have incomplete and untimely data”; and
- EPA lacks a “clear identification and prioritization of the most important scientific questions to be addressed.”
“Right now, EPA is flying blind,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that the agency is spending millions on a public relations campaign to burnish the “corporate image” of its science program even as it cuts research support. “EPA scientists describe a deliberate attempt by its current leaders to ‘dumb down’ the agency and marginalize research so it cannot be applied to any topic of controversy.”
While the deficiencies found in the reports summarized by the Inspector General have roots in earlier administrations, the actions of the Bush administration almost seemed designed to aggravate them:
- Investment in EPA science has steadily decreased to the point where the chair of EPA’s Scientific Advisory Board believes that the agency no longer fields a coherent scientific research program;
- EPA is slashing its network of technical research libraries; and
- Suppression of politically inconvenient scientific findings and rewrites of technical reports for non-scientific reasons have become commonplace.
“While Congress is not known for being a fact-based institution, it needs to reinvest in environmental information and research before it wades into any attempt to reshuffle the deck chairs at EPA,” Ruch added. “The question is whether there is sufficient political support behind rebuilding EPA’s basic scientific capabilities.”