EPA clean-water systems project is off course, IG says

An Environmental Protection Agency project to upgrade the Clean Water Act Permit Compliance System is over budget and behind schedule, the agency's inspector general reported.

The system, known as PCS, supports the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination Program. The system tracks permits, water data and inspection reports for more than 64,000 sites regulated under the Clean Water Act.

Eighteen states now use PCS to manage their permit programs and two more states plan to use the upgraded version of PCS, the IG said. The nation's other states use their own systems to provide information for the program.

Two years ago, EPA's Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance (OCEA) estimated the cost of upgrading PCS to be $12 million to $14 million. Since then, the project's cost has increased by 71 percent, according to the IG.

'Based on the new cost estimates, OECA has only 60 percent of the funding needed to complete the project,' the IG's report (click to link to PDF) noted.

EPA officials in charge of the modernization have considered scaling back the project to bring down costs, the IG said. According to the report, these changes could result in a system that fails to meet the compliance office's basic requirements.

Besides the cost overrun, IG investigators found that the system's implementation date has slipped from this year to 2005.

The investigators added that EPA officials had not completed key planning documents for the project, including a system charter and management plan, even though they had agreed to do so following an IG audit in August 2001.

'The current system is incomplete, obsolete and difficult to use,' the investigators reported. They called on EPA managers to immediately develop realistic cost estimates and completion schedules.

The compliance office team prepared an interim response to the IG's findings that said the office has begun developing new plans and is planning a phased launch.

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