The Environmental Protection Agency’s Inspector General trashed an EPA system designed to alert the public about environmental risks.
The EPA’s Community-Focused Exposure and Risk Screening Tool, or C-FERST, is an online mapping tool that provides the public and local governments with information about environmental hazards. Prompted by a hotline complaint, the IG investigated the system and found it wanting.
C-FERST was supposed to calculate cumulative risks from toxic substances, but doesn’t, according to investigators. The EPA’s Office of Research and Development also developed the tool without a request for its development or a project proposal. C-FERST overlaps with other EPA tools, nor was it being widely used even nine months after deployment. C-FERST has an annual maintenance cost of $400,000.
Curiously, the IG also found that according to “ORD’s Office of Science Information Management — the ORD office that supports IT and application development and maintenance — C-FERST and other ORD-developed web tools are not considered IT applications. Consequently, these tools are excluded from requirements in the EPA’s IT policies, including system life cycle management. Instead, C-FERST is categorized as a ‘research tool.‘”
“Without metrics to measure performance, it is unclear if C-FERST is being used for its intended purpose or meets user needs,” the IG concluded. “Further, having multiple agency mapping tools that perform similar functions can confuse potential users.”
EPA agreed with the IG’s recommendation that the agency develop an action plan for C-FERST, including determining whether to keep the project alive. The IG also recommended that “the Deputy Administrator examine all of the EPA’s web-based risk screening and mapping tools to ensure the need for each tool. This recommendation is unresolved.”