According to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), the defects found in a new EPA audit of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) were first identified in a 2006 audit, but Lisa Jackson, then head of the New Jersey agency and now EPA Administrator, failed to implement most of the corrective steps she pledged to put in place.
The new EPA audit of "Quality System Assessment" reviews whether the New Jersey DEP can measure what it does, whether its data is reliable and how it tracks results over time. While EPA found that DEP had made some progress, the federal agency concluded that several major DEP components suffer from "significant shortcomings" and fail to meet minimal federal standards for management quality and performance.
Among the findings are that the state program for cleaning up toxic wastes operates on an honor system and does not check industry claims. Specifically, the report reads:
"None of the Site Remediation Program's bureaus interviewed do any project assessment and/or process improvement beyond data validation, (i.e. no field audits, no split samples, no internal assessments, etc). The EPA assessment team was told that Responsible Party contractors and/or NJDEP contractors are 'certified professionals and taken at their word'"
Auditors also found that the state wetland protection program lacks any quality assurances that its permit, land use and inventory of rare species habitat is accurate.
"This audit is an indictment of DEP management for failing fundamental tests of competence," stated New Jersey PEER Director Bill Wolfe, a former DEP analyst. "Without basic procedures for assuring the accuracy and quality of performance data a public agency cannot even be sure that its shoes are tied."
According to PEER, this audit is just the latest failing grade issued to DEP management. In 2008, for example, EPA was forced to intervene and assume control of several state-supervised Superfund clean-ups, following a scathing Inspector General report decrying inordinate delays and mismanagement. Ironically, Jackson's prior EPA experience before she came to DEP had been in Superfund.
"Recent DEP Commissioners, including Lisa Jackson, have been far more concerned with political appearances than the day to day real job of running the Department--protecting public health and the environment," added Wolfe, noting that an agency review commissioned by Jackson in 2008 did not mention a single issue tagged by the new EPA audit.
Image via EPA.gov