By Lisa R. Burchi and Lisa M. Campbell
On September 25, 2018, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Office of Inspector General (OIG) issued a report Measures and Management Controls Needed to Improve EPA’s Pesticide Emergency Exemption Process that details the results from the its audit done to determine whether EPA has a comprehensive pesticide emergency exemption approval process that maintains environmental and human health safeguards. Section 18 of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) allows EPA to “grant federal and state lead agencies the authority to approve -- in certain emergency situations -- the limited application of a pesticide not registered for that particular use. These short-term pesticide use approvals are called emergency exemptions.” OIG states that the scope of the audit “focused on the emergency exemption management process and the internal controls necessary to consistently implement and administer it.” OIG did not “evaluate the science used to review emergency exemptions or the subsequent emergency exemption application decisions.”
OIG’s main criticisms of EPA’s emergency exemption program listed in the report are:
- EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs (OPP) collects human health and environmental data through its emergency exemption application process, including the total acres affected, the proposed and actual quantities of the exempted pesticide applied, and the estimated economic losses but it does not use these data to support outcome-based performance measures that capture the scope of each exemption, to measure the potential benefits or risks of each exemption, or to determine how well the emergency exemption process maintains human health and environmental safeguards.
- OPP does not consistently communicate emergency exemption information with its stakeholders. OPP previously sent a “year in review” letter to states that summarized the emergency exemption activity for that year and provided additional information regarding the emergency exemption process. OPP has not sent this letter since 2015, however.
- There were significant deficiencies in the OPP’s online database management, in its draft Section 18 emergency exemption standard operating procedure and application checklist, and in its reports to Congress and the Office of Management and Budget.
The eight OIG recommendations in the report for the Assistant Administrator (AA) for the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention’s (OCSPP) consideration, and OCSPP’s response to those recommendations, are as follows:
Recommendation 1: Develop and implement applicable outcome-based performance measures to demonstrate the human health and environmental effects of the EPA’s emergency exemption decisions.
- OCSPP Response and OIG Resolution: OCSPP did not agree with this recommendation, stating that development of an outcome-based performance measure for the Section 18 emergency exemption process was neither appropriate nor feasible. No proposed corrective actions were proposed and this issue remains unresolved.
Recommendation 2: Determine which application review performance target for emergency exemption applications the OPP plans to meet, and make that target consistent between its Annual Performance Goal and its internal controls governing the emergency exemption process.
- OCSPP Response and OIG Resolution: OCSPP did not agree or disagree with Recommendation 2, but it nevertheless provided a corrective action “to avoid future confusion” and a completion date (July 31, 2019) that was considered acceptable to OIG.
Recommendation 3: Update and prepare the draft standard operating procedure in final that OPP uses to guide the emergency exemption process.
- OCSPP Response and OIG Resolution: OCSPP agreed with this recommendation and provided planned corrective actions and a completion date (July 31, 2019) that was considered acceptable to OIG.
Recommendation 4: Develop formal emergency exemption application review procedures that detail specific data collection, management and reporting control steps, and procedures that require specific management controls for accurately and consistently updating the OPP’s Section 18 database.
- OCSPP Response and OIG Resolution: OCSPP agreed with this recommendation and provided acceptable planned corrective actions and a completion date (July 31, 2019) that was considered acceptable to OIG.
Recommendation 5: Develop concise emergency exemption application guidance that specifies the minimum requirements of an application submission and is available on the OPP’s Section 18 website.
- OCSPP Response and OIG Resolution: OCSPP did not agree or disagree with Recommendation 2, but it nevertheless proposed to: (1) evaluate how its web resources can be enhanced to respond to this recommendation; and (2) if it determines that enhancements to the Section 18 website are necessary, implement any needed web updates by December 2019. OIG does not believe the proposed corrective action for this recommendation is sufficient to meet the intent of the recommendation and states this recommendation remains unresolved.
Recommendation 6: Provide clear guidance to state lead agencies on how and when they can use efficacy data from other state lead agencies to satisfy the emergency exemption application criteria.
- OCSPP Response and OIG Resolution: OCSPP did not agree with this recommendation, stating that the only example provided by OIG to support this recommendation represents an extremely rare situation. No corrective actions were proposed and this issue remains unresolved.
Recommendation 7: Expand the data presented in the OPP’s Section 18 database by considering additional data points, such as application acreage requested, actual acreage applied, and registration status of each exempted pesticide.
- OCSPP Response and OIG Resolution: OCSPP agreed with this recommendation and stated it would “consider additional data points, such as application acreage requested, decision documents, and registration status of each exempted pesticide, as OCSPP explores ways to improve the website database and its overall content.” OCSPP proposed that by December 2019 recommendations would be made to the OPP Director for enhancing the Section 18 database and a memorandum would be provided to the OCSPP AA with a plan for updating the Section 18 database addressing these recommendations. OIG states that OCSPP did not commit to expanding the data presented in the Section 18 database and, thus, this issue remains unresolved.
Recommendation 8: Provide an annual update and information summary to state lead agencies to better inform them about any changes to the emergency exemption application-and-review process.
- OCSPP Response and OIG Resolution: OCSPP agreed with this recommendation and stated it would “explore how to provide periodic and useful program updates to applicants.” OCSPP proposed by that December 2019 it would “work with State Lead Agencies to identify the types of information they may find helpful for periodic updates” and “develop a strategy which details the activities that might be conducted to provide periodic and useful program updates to applicants.” OIG states that OCSPP found the term “periodic” unclear and stated the issue remains unresolved.
Although several of these recommendations and EPA’s proposals remain unresolved, registrants should monitor for actions to be taken by EPA in response to the OIG Report.