EPA OIG Finds Additional Internal Controls Would Improve EPA’s System for Electronic Disclosure of Environmental Violations
By Lynn L. Bergeson and Carla N. Hutton
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Office of Inspector General (OIG) released on June 30, 2022, a report entitled “Additional Internal Controls Would Improve the EPA’s System for Electronic Disclosure of Environmental Violations.” OIG conducted the evaluation to determine whether EPA’s process for screening self-reported violations through its electronic disclosure, or eDisclosure, system is effective and ensures that significant concerns, such as criminal conduct and potential imminent hazards, are addressed by the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance (OECA). According to OIG’s report, the goal of the eDisclosure system is to provide an efficient mechanism for regulated entities to self-disclose violations of federal environmental laws and regulations. Self-disclosed violations are automatically processed under the EPA’s audit policies. EPA subsequently screens certain eDisclosure submissions to ensure that significant concerns, such as criminal conduct and potential imminent hazards, are properly addressed.
OIG states that the eDisclosure system does not have adequate internal controls in place to ensure that EPA’s screening process is effective and that significant concerns, such as criminal conduct and potential imminent hazards, are identified and addressed by OECA and the EPA regions. OIG notes that there is no formal, written national guidance or eDisclosure-specific training available on how EPA staff should conduct screening or delineate staff responsibilities. According to OIG, as a result, most regions inconsistently screen for significant concerns or do not screen at all because they believe OECA is responsible for that task, do not have access to the eDisclosure system, or have other resource limitations. Further, EPA does not have performance measures and does not systematically track eDisclosure system data. Finally, OIG states the eDisclosure system’s reporting tool “does not allow staff to effectively or robustly use or track eDisclosure submissions.” OIG concluded that without national screening guidance, training, effective monitoring, and Central Data Exchange improvements, there is a risk that significant concerns are not being addressed and that the impacts of the EPA’s eDisclosure system will remain limited and unknown.
OIG recommends that the OECA Assistant Administrator develop national guidance that includes a process for screening eDisclosure submissions for significant concerns; provide eDisclosure-specific training to EPA headquarters and regions to clarify expectations, establish staff responsibilities, and communicate best practices; develop performance measures for the eDisclosure system, as well as a monitoring plan to track its effectiveness; and assess eDisclosure system functionality to identify and implement improvements. According to OIG, OECA agreed with all four of its recommendations and proposed acceptable corrective actions and estimated completion dates. All recommendations are resolved with corrective actions pending. Where appropriate, OIG revised the report based on technical comments provided by OECA.