Energy

GAO criticizes EPA for failing to analyze operations as agency works to implement Obama climate agenda

Jonathan Strong Contributor

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) hasn’t taken a top-to-bottom look at itself in more than 20 years — a looming problem as it moves to implement the Obama administration’s climate-change agenda.

Three federal agencies with key roles in energy and environmental regulation fail to directly link requests for taxpayer money to internal analyses of resource needs, potentially wasting funds and undercutting key responsibilities, according to a new government watchdog report.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) singles out the EPA, lobbing criticism because the agency hasn’t comprehensively analyzed its staffing needs since the 1980s, let alone incorporated such analysis into budget requests.

“EPA has not comprehensively analyzed its workload and workforce in more than 20 years to determine the optimal number and distribution of staff agencywide,” GAO said. EPA staffing is “not clearly connected to budget allocation,” GAO added.

EPA insiders have cited the agency’s lack of study in airing concerns over whether EPA is equipped to handle its new role on climate change.

While the GAO and others say EPA faces a major problem, the agency is sprinting to finalize a slew of new regulations under the Clean Air Act to limit greenhouse gases thought by scientists to be warming the planet.

The regulations are problematic because even proponents admit tackling the problem would be far more efficient under new legislation that could design a new program for climate change pollutants.

However, with proponents for such legislation stymied in Congress, environmentalists and the Obama administration are pushing forward with the regulations at what, for other regulatory initiatives, would be an astonishing pace.

The GAO report shows that EPA plans for processing regulations on thousands or even millions of new facilities could be undercut by the agency’s lack of data on its staffing needs. Until EPA properly analyzes the issue, it is “at risk of not having the appropriately skilled workforce [it] need[s] to effectively achieve [its] missions,” the GAO report said.

Rather than study the agency’s resource and staffing needs and then try to reach those levels, EPA adds or subtracts resources from offices on an ad hoc basis. “EPA’s process for allocating resources involves making annual incremental adjustments and relies primarily on historical precedent,” GAO said in the report.

EPA’s employee unions have led the charge in calling for the agency to analyze its workforce needs. Union officials say the data will vindicate their calls for increased staff at the agency.

While industry officials have feared that staffing shortfalls could result in delays for pollution permits and other things they need from EPA and the Interior Department to operate their businesses, most groups have remained far too wary of what EPA will do with extra funds to advocate for them.

The report from GAO was requested by House appropriations committee lawmakers.