Effectiveness of the Nation's Water Research Activities

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1977-01-17.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

                                  UNITED STATES GENERAL ACCOUNTING OFFICE
                                             WASHINGTON,      D C   20548

                                                                                     JAN 1 ‘2 1977

             The Honorable H Guyford Stever
             Chairman, Federal Coordrnatrng    Council    -7gq
        \      for Science, Englneerlng    and Technology

             Dear Dr. Stever:

                      We have revrewed the procedures         followed      by the CommIttee on Water
             Resources Research (COWRR) in carrying               out the functions    assrgned to
             the Executive      Branch under Sectron 305 of the Water Resources Research
             Act of 1964 (P.L. 88-379).          These asslgned functions          are deslgned to
             coordrnate      and rncrease the effectrveness            of the Natron's  water research
             activities!       Although our review focused on COWRR's activltres,               we also
             obtained &formation         from other Federal agencres regarding            water
             resources research actrvrtres,          rncludlng       the basis for data submrtted
             to COWRRfor Its research classlfrcation                system.

                     Durrng our review we interviewed          offlcrals   at the followrng       Federal
             agencies which have representatrves             on COWRR. the Departments        of
             Agriculture,      Commerce, Defense, Housing and Urban Development,               the
             Interior,     and Transportation,     the Energy Research and Development Admrn-
             istration,     the Envrronmental     Protection       Agency, the National     Aeronautics
             and Space Administration,         the National     Science Foundatron,      the Smlth-
             sonian Instltutlon,      and the Tennessee Valley Authority.             Also, COWRR
             meetrngs are attended by observers            from the Water Resources Council,
             the National      Academy of Sciences, and the Offlce          of Management and

                    We believe   that improvements     are needed In the procedures        followed
             by COWRRIn carryrng        out the requrrements     of sectlon 305 of the 1964
             act.     We were told that your offlce       1s revrewlng    the structure    and
             functions    of COWRRrn an effort       to make it more effective.         We are
             bringing    our observatrons     to your attention     for conslderatron     during
    u        your review.

              INTRODUCTION                                                                             I

                   COWRRwas established    In 1963 in order to assist the Office      of
             Scrence and Technology and the Federal Council for Science and Techno-
             logy in fulfilling   their responslbrllty   for interagency coordlnatron
of water resources       research.       COWRR's role was to coordsnate     the
Natlon's    many and diverse water research actxvltxes            conducted at the
various   departments     and agencies wlthln        the Federal Government Involved
In water resources       research.       Wrthln these departments     and agencies,
23 drstlnct    organlzatlons       either    conduct or sponsor water resources
        The Federal water research budget for these organlzatlons            has
Increased     from $64.7 mrlllon    In fiscal   year 1964 to an estimated $214
mrlllon    for fiscal    year 1976 (as reported     to GAO by the indrvldual
COWRRmembers).        Sxnce current Federal spending for water research and
development      1s so large,   the Interagency   coordlnatlon   of Federal water
resources research funds and assxgnments 1s essential.

       In the Water Resources Research Act of 1964 the Congress stipulated
that the President      should clarify    agency responslbllltres     for Federal
water resources     research and make arrangements       for lmplementlng   the
Interagency   coordlnatlon     of such research.     In addltron,   the law stated
that such coordlnatlon       should include

      --Identlfrcatlon     of technical     needs rn various      water     resources
          research categories,

      --A continuing     revrew of the adequacy       of the Government-wade
         water resources      research program,

      --Actions  to facilitate      the interagency      communrcatlons       at
         management levels;

      --Identrflcatlon  and ellmlnatlon  of dupllcatron               and overlaps
         between two or more agency programs;

      --Recommendatxons  with     respect to allocation        of technrcal
         effort among Federal     agencies,

      --Review   of technical  manpower needs and flndlngs  concerning
         the technrcal   manpower base of the program, and;
      --Recommendations    concerning    management policies           to improve
         the quality   of Government-wide    research  efforts,

These functions are restatements          of the seven    functions       assLgned   to
COWRRwhen It was established.

        Until recently,   COWRRcarried  out Its responslbllltles    under the
dlrection     of the Federal Councrl for Science and Technology.      On May 11,
1976, the Congress enacted the National       Scxence and Technology Policy,

Organlzatlon,     and Prlorltles    Act of 1976 (P.L. 94-282).       This law
establzshed    the Federal Coordlnatlng        Council for Science, Englneerlng,
and Technology     (FCCSET) to replace the Federal Council for Science and
Technology.     The 1976 act did not amend sectlon         305 of the 1964 act
and that section 1s still        In effect.     COWRRwill now be dlscharglng
Its functions     under the dlrectlon       of FCCSET.

       We found that COWRRhad addressed the first                four functions,
mentioned above, while dlrectrng        very little       attention     toward fulfllllng
the other three.     COWRRhad not prepared          guldellnes       or deslgned an
actlon plan for carrying     out its assrgned functions,               The Chairman of
COWRRtold us that little      attention     had been given to the last three
functions    because of staff and fundlng       lrmltatlons           The methods used
by COWRRto carry out the other four functions                are discussed below


       The COWRRChalnan         told us that sznce 1964 COWRRhas been using
lnformatlon    obtalned for Its annual reports           as its basis for revrewlng
the adequacy of the Government-wide            water resources     research program.
The frrst   six reports      covered fiscal     years 1965 through 1970. The
rnformatlon    obtalned    for these reports were Issue-oriented            and attempted
to address multiagency        research efforts      and, in a general way, future
research needs.       These reports     also Included     some analysis     of the water
resources   research expenditures.          In 1971, COWRRbegan preparing          Its
annual reports     on a calendar-year       rather   than fiscal-year      basis and
changed Its reportzng        format.   Since that trme the reports have been
primarily   a compllatlon       of agency program descrlptlons         and budgeted
amounts submitted by agency representatives

        We found no evidence that the information         obtained   by COWRRwas
used to evaluate       the adequacy of research programs and none of the
annual reports      included an evaluation      of the adequacy of the research
conducted to date.         Also, the reports have not been issued In a timely
manner.      For example, the 1971 report was issued rn January 1974 and
the 1972 report about three months later.             If the reports   are to serve
as useful documents for obtalnrng          improvements    In water research
actrvltles     of the various    Federal agencies they should be timely and
should include an analysis of the adequacy of the research being


       COWRRuses a research classrficatron      system as its primary means
of rdentlfyrng   duplrcatlon    and overlaps.   Our review rndrcated        that
the system 1s not adequate to serve its Intended purpose               For each
annual report,   COWRRmembers use ten maJor categories        and 60 subcate-
gories to classrfy     their research proJect expenditures      (lndlvldual
proJects are not listed).       The categorized  lists are then submrtted
to COWRRwhich revrews them for any rndlcatrons         of duplrcatron       or

        COWRR's class%flcatron           categorres    do not adequately    reflect      all
water research performed              by its members. For example, an offrclal
from the U.S. Forest Servrce told us that not all of the Forest
Servrce's      water research 1s reported            because the categories       are not
adequately      defined.         Other agency offlclals      told us that srnce their
research generally           fits rnto more than one COWRRcategory,             they arbr-
trarrly     allocate     therr research to several          categorres.    Since the
classrflcatron        system is COWRR's prrmary means of rdentlfymg                  dupllca-
tlon and overlap,          the classrflcatron        system should be sufflcrently
comprehenslve        and the categories        defined clearly      enough to serve therr
Intended purpose.

        More recently,    COWRRhas been developing          a two-dlmenslonal     matrix
classrfication      system, but has suspended Its work temporarrly              because
It permits widely different         classlfrcatlons      of similar     data.   COWRR's
matrix is based on one used by the Office of Water Research and Tech-
nology, Department of the Interior            which the Interior's       Offlce  of
Audrt and Investrgatron        determined      to be unreliable     because of slmllar
problems.      If COWRRdecides to implement the matrix,              it should resolve
the classlflcatron       problems

       COWRRmembers also told us that they have used therr monthly
meetrngs as a means of ldentrfyrng      possible   duplrcatlon       Untrl four
years ago, COWRRheld oral reviewsof        each agency's research activities
at regularly   monthly meetings.     About four meetings were required          to
review the research actlvltres      of all agencies.      This review process
was performed every 2-3 years but the practice         was drscontrnued       about
4 years ago although monthly meetings were continued.           We believe      that
COWRRshould consider rernstrtutmg         the oral reviews of each agency's
research actrvrtres    as they would make members more aware of all
research actlvrtres    currently  being conducted and provide        a better
understanding    of the exact nature of the actlvrtles.


        In 1966, COWRRissued a report entltled              "A Ten-year Program of
Federal Water Resources Research."             This report       presented     a basis for
long-range     planning    of a research program; a dlscusslon             of 14 maJor
water research problem areas and recommendations                   for research    1n each
area; a summarlzatron        of then current programs,           dlvlded   into none
maJor research categories         and 44 research        subcategories,      as well as
recommendations       for the size and scope of research work for each sub-
Lategory and for Increased         expenditure      levels    for the five-year       period
1967 to 1971 mcluslve.          The ten-year      program did not contarn specific
recommendations       as to which agency should be responsrble               for performIng
speclflc    research assignments or as to lndlvldual                 agency expenditure

       COWRR's 1970 annual report discussed the need for revlslon             of the
ten-year    program because new problems were emerging,          exlstlng  research
requirements      had been satisfied     to some extent,   the recommended govern-
ment-wide budget amount in the ten-year          program did not go beyond 1971,
and shortcomrngs      had been ldentlfled     In the ten-year    program.   The 1970
report   ldentrfled    ten problem areas and five speclfzc        problems which
COWRRidentified       as warrantlng    lmmedrate research support.

        COWRR1s presently  supporting   the development   of a five-year    water
resources   research plan.    The program, to be Implemented     over a flve-
year period (1976-1980,    rnclusrve),   will  rdentlfy those areas In which
research should be done and recommend expenditure       levels   for research
effort.    The COWRRChairman said the new plan may be published          In early

        COWRRhad not designed a monitoring      system for ascertalnlng       the
extent to which its program was being implemented          In the budget process.
We believe   that such a system should be Implemented          and should provide
a means for obtarnlng     current   lnformatlon  needed to aid in clarrfylng
which agencies areconducting      research In a specrflc       problem area,
identifying    those areas needing more research,      provldlng      a means to
assess the impact of research actrvrtres,        and keeping the program

      COWRRfacllltates      its interagency   conununlcatron   primarily   through
monthly meetings.      These meetings provide     a forum for dlscusslon      among
the members. At these meetings agency offlclals            are informed  of new

               developments      In their fields   and In other interdlsclpllnary        areas
               relating      to water resources research as well as notlficatron          of new
               publlcatlons,       upcomlng semrnars, or agency annual meetings         which the
               members can attend.

                     Minutes of the meetings are sent to all members.     For those who
               do not attend a meetrng, the COWRRChairman said that the minutes are
               one way of learnrng  what transprred    at the meeting and of keepzng
               abreast of current developments     In the water area.

                      However, our review lndrcated     that the minutes contalned       comments
               mainly on reorganlzatlons,     reassignments,    and recent publrcatlons.       For
               example, in the perrod from September 1974 to January 1976, agencies'
               research proJects or programs were mentioned In only seven instances.
               Also, the minutes contalned very Little       detalled   lnformatson   of what
               transpired    at the meetings.

                     Occasionally,   the COWRRCharrman also establishes          ad hoc work
               groups as part of the effort        to facllltate     interagency communlcatlon.
               The work groups study specrflc,        relevant    problem areas and write a
               report which 1s dlstrlbuted       to COWRRmembers for comment and drscussron.
               The COWRRChairman told us that he felt            the completed ad hoc studies
               have contributed    to interagency     communlcatlon.

                     We believe   COWRRcould better    facilitate      Interagency  communrcatlon
               by encouragrng   Increased drscussron     of research proJects      at monthly
               meetings and by preparing    more detailed       minutes of rts meetings.


                        Because of the large number of Federal departments           and agencies
                 Involved,    and the large increase    during recent years In Federal funding
                 of water resources research actlvltles,        we believe     it 1s Important
                 that improvements    be made m the procedures      followed      by COWRRto ensure
-----   -r;TT r cthe coordrnatlonand      effectiveness   -of such actrvltles.       Therefore,   we   =-   ---
                 recommend that COWRR

                     --Prepare  formal guldellnes   and actron plans for carrying
                        out each of the seven functions    set forth in Section 305
                        of the Water Resources Research Act of 1964.

                     --Issue      Its annual reports    in a more timely manner and
                         Lnclude In such reports      the results   of the contrnulng
                         analysis     of the adequacy of research berng conducted
                         by the various     Federal agencies.

                   --Improve       its research classlflcation       system so that It 1s
                      sufflclently       comprehensrve,    and define    the categories     clearly
                      enough to provide        rnformatlon    needed to assrst In ldentrfyrng
                      and elrmlnatlng       duplrcatlon    and overlap        In addltron,    rein-
                      statute      the oral review process during the monthly meetings
                      at which each member agency's research             activltres     are reviewed.

                   --Design     and Implement a monrtorlng      system for ascertainrng
                      the extent to which Its recommended program for water
                      resources    research 1s Implemented      in the budget process.
                      Such system should provide       for obtarnlng       current lnformatlon
                      needed to aid m clarlfylng         which agencres are conducting
                      research rn speclfrc    problem areas,        Identifying    those areas
                      needing more research,     providing     a means to assess the Impact
                      of research actzvltles,      and keeping its program up-to-date.
2,   I   L     -   ---Encourage    increased drscussion   of research         proJects at monthly
                       meetings   and prepare more detailed   minutes         of such meetings.

                  We are sending copres        of this report   to those Federal             agencies
             which have representatives        or observers   on COWRR

         - - -     We apprecrate  the cooperation received during our review and would
          like     to be informed of any actson taken on our recommendations.    We
          would     be glad to drscuss this report with you or your staff.    If you
          have     any questions  please contact Mr. Carl Bannerman on 693-8287.

                                                        Srncerely    yours,

                                                        Charles P. McAuley
                                                        Assistant DIrector               '