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The Government Performance and Results Act and the Future of EPA: A Second Look

June 1999

Citation: ELR 10347

Author: Robert M. Sussman

Editors' Summary: In 1993, Congress passed the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA), which requires federal agencies to prepare strategic plans and performance reports for achieving program goals. In two companion Dialogues published in the October 1998 and the February 1999 issues of ELR-The Environmental Law Reporter, Professor Rena Steinzor examined GPRA's impact on EPA's strategic planning, budget process, and relationship with the states. Steinzor's Dialogues concluded that compliance with GPRA's requirements could harm EPA, undermine its environmental protection mission, and weaken the Agency's ability to oversee state programs.

In this Dialogue, Robert M. Sussman — the chair of Latham & Watkins' Washington, D.C., environmental practice and a former EPA Deputy Administrator — responds to Steinzor's critique. The author disagrees with Steinzor's conclusion that results-driven strategic planning based on GPRA will weaken EPA. The author argues that the GPRA framework developed by EPA represents an effort to overcome serious weaknesses in strategic planning that EPA has struggled with since the 1980s. According to the author, GPRA goalsetting and performance measures could provide the Agency with a stable and predictable priority-setting process based on sound technical and policy considerations and better enable EPA to survive the pendulum swings of environmental policy. Similarly, specific and credible outcome-based goals could encourage more rational resource allocation for environmental programs and help free the Agency's budget from a politically driven appropriations process. Further, with GPRA's emphasis on environmental outcomes, EPA will develop results-based measures that can be tracked by the public, Congress, and the states. Outcome-based measures can also create a new system of federal oversight of state programs that should prevent environmental degradation while reducing reliance on regulatory "bean counting." Turning to GPRA implementation, the author concludes that while constructive first steps, EPA's initial strategic plan and annual performance plans fall well short of establishing an effective outcome-based system of environmental goals and performance measures and that EPA needs to engage Congress, states, and key stakeholders in a serious dialogue about the challenges and opportunities offered by GPRA.

Robert M. Sussman is a partner at Latham & Watkins and chair of the firm's Washington, D.C. environmental practice. He was Deputy Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency during 1993-1994 and recently served on the Steering Committee of the Enterprise for the Environment (E4E) project. He is a 1973 graduate of Yale Law School.

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