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U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Office of Inspector General
At a Glance
August 22, 2005
Why We Did This Review
Recent audits criticized the
Department of the Interior for
weaknesses in its controls over
environmental liabilities
resulting from hazardous
waste sites. For example, the
Department has not developed
policies or procedures for
estimating environmental
liabilities, and does not have a
prioritized list of cleanup
activities. The Department
initiated an effort to develop a
database to capture uniform
information for financial
reporting purposes.
The Department of the Interior
Inspector General initiated an
audit to evaluate the
Department's processes to
identify, track, and prioritize
potential hazardous waste
sites. Since, the
Environmental Protection
Agency (EPA) has over
20 years experience with
information systems and
processes to identify, assess,
prioritize, and cost estimate
Superfund hazardous waste
sites, we worked with the
Interior Department's
Inspector General to identify
relevant promising practices
for the Department to consider
to improve its processes.
For further information,
contact our Office of
Congressional and Public
Liaison at (202) 566-2391.
To view the full report,
click on the following link:
Catalyst for Improving the Environment
EPA Practices for Identifying and Inventorying Hazardous Sites
Could Assist Similar Department of the Interior Efforts
What We Found
EPA has several mechanisms in place to discover new sites, including having
strong relationships with State offices to obtain new site information. EPA
screens sites before including them in its inventory or priority list of sites requiring
further action. After identifying a site, EPA performs a preliminary assessment to
determine the eligibility for a response action and to prioritize sites for further
action. EPA also offers automated screening tools to assist regional staff in
assessing and inspecting sites. EPA's Hazard Ranking System scores sites based
on the likelihood of release or potential release, the characteristics of site waste,
and the people or sensitive environments affected by the release. Following
selection of the cleanup remedy, EPA uses a panel of experts to evaluate risks and
establish funding priorities for new cleanups. EPA estimates changing project
costs throughout the process of prioritizing sites, and balances cost as one of
several criteria to choose suitable cleanup options.
The Department of the Interior, as a Federal land manager responsible for
addressing hazardous sites on its lands, could apply several practices used by EPA
to ensure that the Department addresses its highest priority sites first, including:
Site Discovery
	Consult existing site inventories and work with States, Tribes, and
communities to obtain information to identify potential sites.
	Develop and apply user-friendly checklists and templates to gather initial site
information and generate consistency in reports by bureau field staff.
	Consult upcoming EPA guidance on preliminary assessments and site
inspections at Federal facilities, as well as a web-based hazardous waste
compliance assistance center.
Site Assessment and Prioritization
	Develop and apply automated tools to quickly assess sites and provide
uniformity. Consider EPA's automated tools as a source of ideas.
	Develop a risk-based prioritization method that ranks health risks and
considers land uses, ecological risks, and tribal factors.
	Develop a tracking mechanism for sites the Department sets aside as not
requiring cleanup attention, and work with States, Tribes, and communities to
stay aware of changing site conditions that warrant reprioritization.
Cost Estimating
	Create a web-based "cost estimating toolbox" as a one-stop resource for
bureau field staff to document cost assumptions, and include EPA's sources
of information on the costs associated with mining sites.
	Frequently reevaluate and adjust cost estimates throughout cleanups.