In 1970, Congress created the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) by pulling together a complex patchwork of federal programs into a single regulatory body. The new agency was charged with a deceptively straightforward mission: to control and abate the spread of pollution.
Over the last two decades, this goal has remained unchanged, but the means needed to achieve it have proven to be far from simple. EPA integrates research, monitoring, standard-setting, and enforcement, coordinating these diverse activities with state and local governments, private and public organizations, and educational institutions. It works with the Departments of Interior, Agriculture, and Energy, serving as a focal point for all federal agencies whose operations affect the environment. EPA undertakes these functions with a work force of 17,468 and a 1994 budget of approximately $6.4 billion.
The years since 1970 have brought an expanding system of environmental statutes under EPA's jurisdiction. These include the Clean Air Act (CAA), the Clean Water Act (CWA), the Pollution Prevention Act (PPA), the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA, or Superfund), to name only a few.
The growing outside scrutiny, increasing responsibilities, and limited resources have brought EPA to a critical juncture. To ensure the viability of the nation's environmental future, the agency must embark on a new course. Rather than responding to high-profile incidents of pollution with isolated, media-specific approaches based on a command-and-control bureaucracy, it must pursue an integrated, flexible strategy. Rather than tolerating status-quo inefficiencies as necessary evils, it must reinvent its approach to management.
To help guide EPA's new course, first, the agency must eliminate obstacles to increased accountability and performance. EPA should give local communities greater flexibility in achieving the environmental focus of federal statutes wherever possible and should solicit their input before completing major regulatory reforms. In addition, EPA should delegate responsibility over permit programs to states that are legally and organizationally prepared for the job. To coordinate this decentralization, EPA should assemble a clearinghouse providing potential permit holders with relevant information.
No matter how effectively EPA removes the barriers to federal, state, and local performance, it must also bolster the role of the private sector by creating competitive government. Shrinking resources, the immense costs of toxic cleanup, and the difficulty of eliminating pollutant transfer demand that EPA redirect its focus: The new priority must be to prevent environmental degradation altogether.
Although the Pollution Prevention Act of 1990 provides a worthy point of departure, the agency can do more. Regulatory reform, private partnerships, technological innovation, greater public information, and state and local cooperation must each be harnessed to effect the shift in paradigm. One specific example of this principle lies in the arena of water quality, where the agency should recognize that parties subject to Clean Water Act regulations can often identify and implement the most efficient mechanisms to ameliorate toxic buildup. To make it possible, however, EPA must work with Congress to allow trading of waste discharges when such exchanges meet overall quality requirements while saving money. The agency should augment its effort to promote independent industry initiatives and public-private partnerships. These could be instrumental in the accelerated development of innovative environmental technology, especially in the area of pollution prevention. Eliminating the export of banned pesticides overseas will not only ensure that Americans are not exposed to harmful chemicals on imported foods but will also demonstrate American responsibility and leadership worldwide.
EPA must also make better use of the resources already at its disposal by empowering employees to manage for results. It should begin with an agency-wide drive to exert new leadership through measurable goals, performance standards, and strategic planning. These steps should address the nation's full range of environmental problems and EPA's own internal operations. Overdependence on contractors and inadequate oversight of their work have yielded ethical abuses due to a lack of accountability.
The agency's future lies in promoting not only environmental safety, but environmental justice as well. Administrator Browner is acting to resolve both issues with major initiatives, and EPA's senior management must follow through on her proposals.
Measures to advance local action must be accompanied by efforts to improve EPA's own results, and an important step in this direction would come from ensuring that all agency decisions are based on quality science. To that end, EPA should develop a personnel system and professional tracks for scientific and technical employees and should intensify its use of peer review and quality assurance to promote excellence in science. Finally, another pressing internal issue lies in the agency's Office of Enforcement, where disparate, media-specific approaches have thwarted the overall effort to ensure environmental compliance. Reorganization of the Office of Enforcement will result in greater enforcement and compliance.
The discussions that follow do not attempt to encompass the full set of concerns within EPA. The continuation of this process will bring additional issues and further reports on its own internal reinvention findings. The present recommendations of the National Performance Review, however, save approximately $33 million over the next six years and set EPA on a new course for the next century.
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