How can the US EPA optimize Offsite Compliance Monitoring?

Opportunity closes: Open until filled
Department or Agency: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

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Topics
Crime And Law EnforcementEnvironmentInspectionsOffsite Compliance MonitoringRegulatory ComplianceRemote Video Evaluations

Project Overview

Summary

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) and the NC Office of Strategic Partnerships (OSP) hosted a research partnership interest meeting on Tuesday, November 1 to discuss this project. Click here for the meeting recording.

Research questions:

  1. How does the effectiveness of Offsite Compliance Monitoring (OfCM) activities compare to onsite inspections?

    • Can OfCM identify the same violations, provide the same specific and general deterrence, and promote and maintain compliance in the same way as onsite inspections?  
    • What are the attributes of OfCM activities and onsite inspections required to assess their effectiveness? 
  2. What outcomes does OfCM provide?

    • Does compliance depend on which monitoring  tool is used or on whether there is OfCM activity that includes subsequent enforcement action? 
  3. Do OfCM tools support enforcement activities?

    • Can evidence collected using only OfCM tools support an impactful enforcement action?  
    • What are the key attributes of an effective OfCM tool? 
  4. What is the best use for OfCM?

    • Does it depend on the tool, the program, and/or on the compliance history of the facility? 

\The Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance (OECA) anticipates that the answers to these questions will involve multiple research efforts given the range of programs and OfCM tools that will need to be assessed. The details of the research question(s) and project opportunity are not set in stone; discussion and refinement are likely.*

Project summary:   The Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance (OECA) addresses pollution problems that impact American communities through provision of compliance assistance and through enforcement. OECA compliance and enforcement activities target the most serious water, air, and chemical hazards. To enhance these efforts, the Office of Compliance is undertaking an initiative to build a national, evidence-based program designed to achieve higher levels of compliance and resulting environmental improvements through EPA’s compliance and enforcement activities. This evidence-based building effort expands upon OECA’s Next Generation Compliance (“NextGen”) principles to embrace technology and transparency to promote compliance with environmental laws.

The first step of this initiative is to develop a Compliance Learning Agenda (CLA), which will identify the most pressing, unanswered environmental compliance questions and establish an evaluation plan with a series of research projects intended to answer those questions. In June 2021, OECA convened a workgroup of volunteers from US EPA, states, tribes, and academia to work together to draft the first CLA.

The COVID-19 pandemic restricted OECA’s ability to do onsite inspections, which helped OECA recognize that a broader portfolio of OfCM activities may provide the office with additional tools for enforcement and compliance programs. These tools might include Desk Audits, Clean Air Act (CAA) Stack Test Reviews, Information Request Response Reviews, among others. To assess what the office learned from the extended use of OfCM over the past two years and gain insight into the efficacy of OfCM tools relative to onsite inspections, OECA conducted a preliminary, short-term assessment of US EPA’s use of OfCM using readily available data and information to inform interim guidance and best practices. OECA now seeks to use those results to guide a longer-term assessment and research into OfCM and the best uses of these tools moving forward. OECA anticipates that the answers to these questions will involve multiple research efforts given the range of programs and OfCM tools that will need to be assessed.

Key Acronyms:

US EPA: Environmental Protection Agency  OECA: Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance  OfCM: Offsite Compliance Monitoring  CLA: Compliance Learning Agenda  OSP: North Carolina Office of Strategic Partnerships

The NC Office of Strategic Partnerships develops, launches, and enhances partnerships between state government and North Carolina’s research and philanthropic sectors. (Learn more here.) This is a pilot effort with the federal government.

Anticipated deliverables

  1. Data collection: Obtain information from the short-term assessment and other sources on the efficacy of various OfCM tools and their use in compliance and enforcement programs. 
  2. Data analysis brief report: Should include assessment(s) of the efficacy of various OfCM tools, including a determination of when/where they are the most effective relative to onsite inspections. 
  3. Thorough synthesis report: Using the data obtained from the analysis of the effectiveness of OfCM tools, produce a synthesis report of OfCM and the best uses of these tools. This report should include proposals to help inform policy, long-term guidance, and best practices for the use of OfCM tools.

Planned use of results

Results will be used to inform future US EPA policy and/or guidance on best practices related to OfCM.

Funding

US EPA, OSP, and research partners will work together to determine if a project has costs, what funding may be available, and possibilities for pursuing funding, if needed. US EPA has some staff resources available to research partners and may have financial resources available subject to budget constraints.

Data

US EPA, OSP, and research partners will work together to assess what data would advance a project, whether the data is already collected and available, and/or whether and how to collect and share it.

As part of researching this topic, researchers will need to:

  1. Assess and identify criteria upon which to evaluate the effectiveness of OfCM.  
  2. Collect additional primary data in order to evaluate the effectiveness of OfCM activities. 
  3. Evaluate the quality of existing inspection and OfCM data and link to enforcement actions.  
  4. Work with Tribes, states, and state associations (e.g., Environmental Council of States, Association of Clean Water Administrators, etc.) to identify available state OfCM data.  
  5. Assess the quality of state/US EPA inspection data for reporting inconsistencies.

Interested in collaborating?

Project point of contact

Michele McKeever

Acting Director, Planning Measures and Oversight Division, Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance

Mckeever.Michele@epa.gov


Application details

Expertise needed

Experience assessing the efficacy of compliance monitoring and enforcement programs; data collection, analysis, and interpretation.

Key dates

Open until filled. US EPA and research partners will establish interim milestones for completing activities/results over a 1-2 year period.

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