EPA Cannot Prove That Its $16 Million Education Program Had Any Positive Results

Inspector general criticizes agency for using weak excuses for not collecting data

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy / AP

The EPA cannot prove that its Environmental Education Program is worthwhile, according to an audit from the agency’s inspector general.

"Environmental education is a process that allows individuals to explore environmental issues, engage in problem solving, and take action to improve the environment," the agency states. "As a result, individuals develop a deeper understanding of environmental issues and have the skills to make informed and responsible decisions."

The program awarded more than $16 million in grant funds from fiscal year 2012 to 2014 that went to education organizations, internships, fellowships, and environmental awards.

When a grant is awarded to a specific project, the government requires that its effects be properly evaluated.

"The [Office of Environmental Education] was to determine, through its grantees, the percentage of all students and teachers targeted who demonstrated improved academic achievement or teacher aptitude," the inspector general explains. "Further, the grantees were to provide information on the percentage of all grantee participants who demonstrate increased environmental knowledge."

But instead of fulfilling its duty to obtain this information and report it properly, the EPA now claims that the Paperwork Reduction Act prevented it from collecting the data because it restricts the amount of information an agency can request from the public.

The inspector general said EPA’s assertion was incorrect and the agency had permission to collect the data without violating the act.

"[The Office of Environmental Education] stated it cannot demonstrate to what extent the investment in such initiatives has improved environmental literacy and stewardship," the inspector general said.

"The [Office of Environmental Education] is significantly impaired in its ability to provide evidence of program results and benefits, manage the program to achieve results, or spot waste and abuse," the audit states. "Improved program management and oversight controls are needed for program accountability and budget justification, and to reduce and manage the current risk of waste and abuse."

An EPA spokesperson defended the program in a statement.

"EPA is confident that the continued positive performance of Environmental Education program components is indicative of Office Environmental Education’s overall success in advancing environmental literacy and stewardship," said the spokesperson.