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November 17, 2021

OIG Report Includes Ensuring the Safe Use of Chemicals among EPA’s FY 2022 Top Management Challenges

Lynn L. Bergeson Carla N. Hutton

On November 15, 2021, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Office of Inspector General (OIG) announced the availability of its annual report summarizing what OIG considers the “most serious management and performance challenges facing the agency.” According to OIG, EPA’s top management challenges in fiscal year (FY) 2022 include:

  • Mitigating the Causes and Adapting to the Impacts of Climate Change: EPA must take a leadership role in limiting climate change and mitigating its effect on human health and the environment;
  • Integrating and Leading Environmental Justice across EPA and the Government: As part of its effort to integrate environmental justice across its programs, EPA must address the environmental hazards and cumulative risk facing at-risk communities and effectively communicate that risk to those communities;
  • Ensuring the Safe Use of Chemicals: OIG states that to protect effectively public health and the environment, EPA must be able to depend on its ability to conduct credible and timely assessments of the risks posed by pesticides, toxic chemicals, and other environmental chemical risks. According to OIG, the 2016 expansion of EPA’s regulatory authority under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) has increased the need for conducting rapid and accurate risk assessments. OIG notes that EPA must also continue to conduct registration and reregistration of “hundreds of pesticides per year, as well as assure that it is setting appropriate exposure levels for contaminants in drinking water.” Without appropriate resource and implementation plans in place to demonstrate that EPA can accomplish this work, and without the ability to conduct scientifically sound risk assessments accurately, the public’s trust and confidence in EPA’s ability to accomplish its mission of protecting human health and the environment will be at risk;
  • Safeguarding Scientific Integrity Principles: Science-based decisions at EPA must be based on principles of scientific integrity to ensure that human health and the environment are protected by using the best available science. EPA must develop new processes and update its regulations, policies, and guidance to protect scientific integrity. According to OIG, taking these actions will help make EPA decisions more legally defensible and maintain public trust in its decision making;
  • Ensuring Information Technology and Systems Are Protected against Cyberthreats: Information technology is a fundamental and essential resource for EPA to carry out its mission;
  • Managing Infrastructure Funding and Business Operations: EPA must effectively oversee the funding and operation of America’s water, wastewater, and other environmental infrastructure; and
  • Enforcing Environmental Laws and Regulations: Through enforcement, EPA ensures that regulated entities are following environmental laws and will continue to do so, as enforcement actions effectively deter future noncompliance. According to OIG, considering EPA’s limited resources, and despite potential funding increases in FY 2022, “EPA is challenged to assess its resource requirements for the enforcement program and identify innovative and cost-effective means of detecting and deterring noncompliance in the future.”