EPA Developed Neighborhood Risk Tool For Eight Years But Nobody Uses It


Mark Tapscott Executive Editor, Chief of Investigative Group
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A federal watchdog revealed Thursday a classic case of bureaucracy gone wrong in the Environmental Protection Agency’s eight-year folly in developing an online tool for citizens to check hazards in their neighborhoods.

The report by the Inspector General at EPA was prompted by an anonymous complaint left on the watchdog’s hotline for reporting waste, fraud and abuse about the agency’s Community-Focused Exposure and Risk Screening Tool.

The odyssey of problems with the C-FERST tool described by the IG included:

  • Nobody asked that the tool be developed.
  • No one submitted a project proposal for the tool.
  • The tool didn’t match EPA’s information technology requirements.
  • Other EPA tools do the same thing the tool does.
  • The tool finally delivered was different from its original purpose.
  • There are no measures to determine if the tool works.
  • Hardly anybody uses the tool nine months after its September 2016 launch.
The EPA Office of Research and Development “planned and designed C-FERST internally as a research tool – outside of the agency’s information technology monitoring and accountability requirements – and altered the original purpose of the tool during development without properly documenting this change,” the IG said.

“The ORD also did not consider outcome measures or possible joint governance with similar EPA tools. Without proper accountability controls, ORD creates a risk that the estimated $400,000 it plans to spend annually for maintenance, operation and enhancements of C-FERST is wasteful government spending.”

Agency officials responsible for the tool agreed with the IG’s recommendations, including having a concrete product development plan. Still unresolved is the IG’s recommendation that officials “examine all of the EPA’s web-based risk screening and mapping tools to ensure the need for each tool.”

No figure was available for the total cost of developing C-FERST, but the IG estimated annual maintenance costs at $400,000.

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