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June 5, 2024

GAO Finds EPA Implemented Three Open Recommendations Related to Assessing and Controlling Toxic Chemicals

Lynn L. Bergeson Carla N. Hutton

On May 28, 2024, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) publicly released a report entitled Priority Open Recommendations: Environmental Protection Agency. According to the report, since GAO’s May 2023 letter, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) implemented four of GAO’s 15 open priority recommendations, including three recommendations related to assessing and controlling toxic chemicals:

  • In May 2023, EPA’s chemical assessment program provided information to its program and regional offices about the various chemical assessment products available, how they differ, and the length of time each takes to prepare. GAO states that this information “will facilitate offices’ chemical assessment nominations by providing greater predictability about options, thereby helping offices determine which product best meets their needs, consistent with the intent of our recommendation in our December 2011 report.”
  • In April 2024, EPA’s chemical assessment program completed an analysis to address resource needs. According to GAO, the analysis included metrics for evaluating the assessment program’s workforce recruitment and retention strategies. GAO states that this effort will help the program and EPA leadership assess the level of resources that should be dedicated to the program to meet user needs and to maintain a viable risk information database, consistent with the intent of its March 2008 recommendation.
  • EPA’s April 2024 analysis also included information on staff specializations, mission critical capabilities, and demand for chemical assessments. GAO notes that such data “will support plans to monitor and evaluate the program’s progress toward achieving human capital goals, consistent with our recommendation in our December 2020 report.”

GAO’s report states that in April 2023, it issued its biennial update to its High-Risk List, which identifies government operations with greater vulnerabilities to fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement. The High-Risk List also identifies the need for transformation to address economy, efficiency, or effectiveness challenges. GAO states that “[o]ne of our high-risk areas — transforming EPA’s process for assessing and controlling toxic chemicals — centers directly on EPA.”

GAO notes that the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2023 includes a provision for GAO to identify additional Congressional oversight actions that can help agencies implement priority recommendations. In its report, GAO states that Congress can use various strategies to address its recommendations, such as incorporating them into legislation or using its budget, appropriations, and oversight processes “to incentivize executive branch agencies to act on our recommendations and monitor their progress.” For example, according to GAO, “Congress can hold hearings focused on EPA’s progress in implementing GAO’s priority recommendations, withhold funds when appropriate, or take other actions to provide incentives for agencies to act.”