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Taking Environmental Protection to the Next Level
Partnerships Are Essential, Public Administrators Find

In a  recently-released report, the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) offers recommendations to strengthen EPA's role as a partnering agency, accelerate progress in cleaning up impaired waters, improve performance management systems, and implement innovative approaches to environmental protection.   The full report and a summary version are posted on the home page of NAPA's website.

The report also highlights challenges in meeting environmental goals where a wide array of federal, state, and local governments must work together and success depends on both regulatory and voluntary actions. 

Taking Environmental Protection to the Next Level:  An Assessment of the U.S. Environmental Services Delivery System is the product of a three-year study requested by the Office of Management and Budget and authorized by Congress in EPA's 2004 budget. 

NAPA used an in-depth case study of Chesapeake Bay cleanup efforts and less detailed reviews of several other environmental programs to identify broader lessons for improving environmental protection efforts.  To help develop its recommendations, NAPA consulted with leaders from EPA, other federal agencies, state and local governments, nonprofit organizations, and the business community. 

The group’s insights regarding the challenges of building effective intergovernmental and private sector networks in the water quality arena are relevant to solving other environmental problems on a regional basis and may also have value to those working to address complex problems outside the environmental arena.   The logic models and analytic tools NAPA developed for this project provide a useful framework that can be adapted to other complex efforts involving multiple partners, and a mix of regulatory and voluntary tools.  

NAPA Findings: Challenges in Meeting Environmental Goals

Programs to address water pollution are imbalanced.   EPA's programs to address point sources of water pollution are robust and applied almost everywhere, while programs to address nonpoint sources are often experimental or optional even where they exist.  Although typically unregulated, nonpoint sources can be major contributors of pollution to surface waters.  Successful point and nonpoint programs are essential to achieving environmental goals.   

Current partnerships to achieve "Healthy Waters" are inadequate.  The Chesapeake Bay Program (CBP) partnerships (interstate, state, and sub-state) illustrate the kinds of organizational relationships needed to improve impaired waters.  Success in cleaning the Chesapeake involves efforts of over 3,000 government entities, 23 federal agencies, hundreds of watershed associations and other nonprofits, thousands of farmers, millions of homeowners, and many other stakeholders.  Such partnerships are not easy to create or emulate, and it takes considerable time and money to nurture them.  Even the CBP partnership mechanisms need improvement.     

Resources are scarce and diminishing. An expert finance panel determined the CBP has access to only about 10 percent of the money it needs to achieve success.  Financial pressures exist nationwide.  The nation's 40,000 impaired waters are being cleaned up at the rate of only 250 per year; the trajectory is shaky at best.

Implementation tools are missing.  While regulatory tools for cleaning up point sources are generally well used, tools needed to clean up nonpoint sources are too seldom available and applied -- causing major gaps in cleaning up impaired waters.

Management information systems lag behind the need. Data and accountability systems are based on a centralized federal-state construct, and have not yet adapted to the needs of protection efforts that involve multiple partners, such as a Healthy Waters program. 

There is a sound foundation for progress.  EPA now supports watershed planning, Smart Growth initiatives, multi-party collaborations, industry-based standards, and more.   While these efforts are still relatively small and not yet nationwide, they do provide a base upon which to organize, empower, and fund an effective Healthy Waters initiative.

NAPA Recommendations

Strengthen EPA's role as a partnering agency for both regulatory and non-regulatory programs, and especially where voluntary actions are fundamental to success.

Establish a comprehensive "Healthy Waters Program" to clean up impaired waters nationwide, and bring nonpoint programs on a par with point source programs, and establish priorities for restoration projects in large aquatic ecosystems.

Encourage and support intergovernmental coordinating bodies needed to ensure that large aquatic ecosystem initiatives can accomplish water pollution reduction goals.

Preserve EPA's commitment to scientific research and data as the basis for                 policymaking and evaluation.

Build a path to more adequate and sustainable funding for environmental services by broadening the purpose and revenue sources of the State Revolving Fund, developing models and guidelines for fee-based revenue systems, providing leadership for pollution credit trading, partnering with other federal agencies, and working with Congress.

Improve access to innovation to make innovative programs more readily available to policymakers, program directors, and implementing organizations.

Enhance performance management systems by building accountability mechanisms that incorporate inputs, outputs, and outcomes from EPA's traditional partners and as well as other partners whose efforts are essential to achieving environmental results.

Evaluate the alignment of partners, tools, and coordinating mechanisms for other EPA and federal partnership programs using the analytic framework NAPA has developed.  

For more information about the study, please email Donna Fletcher (fletcher.donna@epa.gov), EPA Office of Congressional and Intergovernmental Relations, or call her at (202) 564-7504). 

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