The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) mismanaged $40 million in grants meant for water projects in the San Francisco Bay, according to a government watchdog.
EPA Region 9, which covers Arizona, California, Hawaii and Nevada, doled out a total of $40,945,571 in grants to 18 different recipients since 2010. EPA’s project was supported by another $145 million in partnerships, most of which went to local governments in the Bay Area.
Auditors at EPA’s inspector general sent out a report titled “EPA Does Not Have Reasonable Assurance That Employees and Recipients Perform Due Diligence” that concluded EPA mismanaged every grant the IG had examined.
“EPA Region 9 does not have reasonable assurance that EPA staff working on San Francisco Bay Water Quality Improvement Fund grants (or the respective grant recipients) are performing due diligence with respect to the stewardship of project progress, compliance with grant terms, and fiduciary responsibility for federal funds,” states the inspector general’s report. “Project officers did not consistently collect and review information needed to monitor San Francisco Bay Water Quality Improvement Fund grants, or verify that outputs and outcomes were achieved.”
Such sloppy management caused the EPA to significantly under-perform the expectations of the grants. The agency only managed to clean up a single mile of a local river, kill off an invasive snail species and convince 7 local governments to ban plastic bags.
Each of the four grants examined failed to complete basic administrative baseline monitoring and included serious financial inaccuracies. Additionally, when questioned by auditors, grant receivers falsely claimed several times that they’d fulfilled their obligations. This was the first time the government ever reviewed the spending.
“EPA Region 9 project officers and grant specialists for the San Francisco Bay Water Quality Improvement Fund did not complete baseline monitoring reports accurately and timely, or consistently verify that the recipient submitted required documentation throughout the life of the grant,” continues the report. “Grant specialists and project officers were inattentive and made mistakes, and program management did not review documents to verify accuracy or hold staff accountable.”
Grant receivers also did not receive required project progress reports on time and were three years late on returning one request for documents. The report even notes that “when documents are not received or reviewed, the risk of fraud, waste and abuse increases.”
EPA’s Inspector General recommended that the agency examine the grants it gave to clean up the San Francisco Bay further, starting in September of 2017.
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