Old systems, missing data put EPA at risk

Outdated computer systems and missing data are two significant barriers to the Environmental Protection Agency's ability to perform its job, according to a General Accounting Office report released last month.

The report, which is part of a GAO series on "Major Management Challenges and Program Risks" at federal agencies, states that the old databases and even information within individual databases are not compatible, making it difficult to draw conclusions from the data. There are also important gaps in the information reported in the databases, the report says.

In 1998, the EPA approved an initiative to standardize the data so that it can be combined and reported from various information systems. The agency also announced plans to perform an in-depth analysis of data gaps and to determine ways to address those gaps. Additionally, the agency announced plans to create an office for information management, information policy and technology stewardship. All these initiatives must be carried through, GAO said.

"Although these efforts are steps in the right direction, collecting and managing the data the EPA needs [has] been a long-standing challenge for the agency," the report says. "Achieving these improvements will require long-term commitment and resources."

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