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EPA watchdog says agency underprepared for national emergency

EPA watchdog says agency underprepared for national emergency
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The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is not adequately managing the equipment needed to respond to emergencies, its watchdog concluded in a Friday report.

“While the EPA has successfully responded to past incidents, there is a risk that — until it identifies a list of [homeland security and emergency response] equipment it needs to meet its responsibilities during an incident — the agency may not have the correct equipment to respond to future incidents,” the EPA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) wrote. 

At issue are two systems used by the EPA to track equipment used to respond to oil spills, leaks of hazardous waste and any chemical, biological or radiological incidents.

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The EPA spends a little over a half-million dollars to manage equipment through the Agency Asset Management System (AAMS), the required method for the agency since 2018. 

But the agency spent more than $2 million on contractors to otherwise manage its inventory. 

“At an acquisition cost of $2,365,938, the agency uses contractors to track equipment, even though AAMS could do this for the agency,” the report states. “The use of multiple contracts throughout the agency is an inefficient use of taxpayer funds.”

The inspector general did not audit the EPA’s response capabilities, only the status of the equipment list. The EPA says it is fully prepared to respond to incidents at all times.

The watchdog recommended the EPA shelve the dual system and rely exclusively on AAMS.

But it received pushback from the EPA, which proposed deleting several recommendations from the report.

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“EPA rejects the assertion in the OIG report that EPA does not adequately track the equipment it needs to fulfill its responsibilities during an incident,” the agency told The Hill in a statement.

“We continue to believe that the report does not provide the sound evidence to support many of the findings and mischaracterizes EPA’s role in responding to emergencies. Each response is different in scope and nature. The necessary equipment required to adequately respond varies. It is impossible to preselect equipment types and number due to the uncertainty of the different types of incidents, equipment technology advances and evolving intelligence,” the agency said.

But the inspector general report criticized the EPA for keeping its equipment lists, some of which are compiled on the regional level relatively isolated, arguing the agency needs to track its nationwide inventory.

“Without an agency-wide list of equipment, the EPA will not know whether it is using its limited budget on the equipment it needs for an emergency or incident. A list of the equipment needed will also help the agency responsibly spend taxpayer funds,” the report said.