Feds Throw Millions At Grants They Have No Idea Will Work

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Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officials spent millions on environmental education grants and training, but ignored decade-old recommendations to measure effectiveness, according to a government watchdog.

The EPA Office of Environmental Education (OEE) has awarded more than 3,600 grants worth $50 million total to schools, local governments and nonprofit groups since 1992 to promote environmental awareness, according to EPA’s inspector general.

The National Environmental Education Advisory Council (NEEAC) was created by Congress to monitor the grants, but was unable to do so because EPA refused to fund it or allow it to convene meetings.

“The EPA cannot assess its environmental education program results and benefits, and is limited to reporting on individual grant and cooperative agreement outputs,” the IG said. “OEE did not execute its strategic plan or NEEAC recommendations that would have enabled an evaluation of program results and performance.”

“As a result, OEE is significantly impaired in its ability to provide evidence of results and instill confidence that it has the capacity to properly manage the environmental education program and the program’s significant grant funds,” the IG added.

The NEEAC told Congress in a 2005 report OEE should measure the effectiveness of its education grants and training programs. OEE was supposed to have been doing that since it and the council were created in 1990 by the National Environmental Education Act. EPA officials denied funding for the council, which held no meetings between 2005 and 2012.

Since the council couldn’t do its job — reporting to the EPA administrator and compiling congressionally-required reports — the council couldn’t submit biennial reports to Congress from 2005 to 2015. OEE claimed it didn’t have enough money to pay the council, a claim the IG didn’t investigate.

OEE also claimed it doesn’t have to report program accomplishments to the EPA administrator. But the EPA, Office of Management and Budget and Government Accountability Office all require agencies to track program performance, the IG said. (RELATED: EPA Conducts Two Secret Meetings A Year To Decide How To Dole Out Slush Fund Money)

The 1990 environmental education law doesn’t require OEE to follow the council’s recommendations.

The IG told the EPA’s associate administrator for public engagement and environmental education to ensure that OEE gathers performance data and make sure the council prepares its biennial report to Congress. The EPA is working on those recommendations, the IG said.

The associate administrator still needs to make sure the OEE follows through with all council recommendations and reports on all progress to the administrator at least once a year, the IG said.

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