- WEB EXCLUSIVE
- PE COFFEEHAUS
In fact, a report released Thursday by the office claims, the new plan is largely the same as the old one, with none of the GAO recommendations included.
In March 2008, GAO released a report that said the EPA's IRIS database was at serious risk of becoming obsolete because the agency had not been able to complete timely, credible assessments or decrease its backlog of 70 ongoing assessments – a total of 4 were completed in fiscal years 2006 and 2007.
In addition, according to GAO documents, assessment process changes that the EPA had recently made, as well as other changes the agency was considering at the time of GAO's review, would further reduce the credibility and timeliness of IRIS assessments. The March review concluded the following:
- "EPA's efforts to finalize assessments have been thwarted by a combination of factors, including two new OMB-required reviews of IRIS assessments by OMB and other federal agencies and by EPA management decisions, such as delaying some assessments to await new research.
- The two new OMB/interagency reviews of draft assessments involve other federal agencies in EPA's IRIS assessment process in a manner that limits the credibility of IRIS assessments and hinders EPA's ability to manage them. For example, the OMB/interagency reviews lack transparency, and OMB required EPA to terminate five assessments EPA had initiated to help it implement the Clean Air Act.
- The changes to the IRIS assessment process that EPA was considering, but had not yet issued at the time of our review, would have added to the already unacceptable level of delays in completing IRIS assessments and further limited the credibility of the assessments."
GAO noted that it continues to believe that it is critical that input from all parties – particularly agencies that may be affected by the outcome of IRIS assessments – be publicly available. In addition, the office said, the estimated time frames under the new process, especially for chemicals of key concern, will likely perpetuate the cycle of delays to which the majority of ongoing assessments have been subject.
"Instead of streamlining the process, as GAO recommended, EPA has institutionalized a process that from the outset is estimated to take 6 to 8 years. This is problematic because of the substantial rework such cases often require to take into account changing science and methodologies."