Manner in Which the National Commission on Water Quality's Final Report Was Developed

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1977-03-01.

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

                              WASHINGTO   D.C. 20548                               -
                                                                            the General
                  RIEST                        raLI                   pecific approval
     B-15 6219    AccouJ(c        ineX                 otr
                  by the Office   o Co     -           ¥S.

                                                                      MAR    1 1977
     The Honorable John D. Dingell
     Chairman, Subcommittee on Energy
       and Power                                             1!   ,
C1   Committee on Interstate and Foreign
     House of Representatives

     Dear Mr. Chairman:

          In accordance with your request of March 12, 1976, we
     reviewed the manner in which the National Commission on
     Water Quality's final report to the Congress was developed.
     Specifically, welexamined the Commission's procedures for
     selecting contractors, reviewing contractor reports, and
     developing the final repor tto determine whether these pro-
     cedures were consistent with objective reporting.

          The procedures established and followed by the Commission
     were consistent with objective reporting. These procedures
     included evaluating proposals and qualifications of prospec-
     tive contractors, reviewing and approving contractor work
     plans, and monitoring work progress. In addition, the Com-
     mission staff, consultants, governmental bodies, affected
     parties, and environmental groups reviewed and commented on
     contractor and Commission report drafts. Finally, the Com-
     mission held public hearings before issuing the final report,
     and the Commissioners reviewed and approved the findings and
     recommendations which were reported to the Congress.

          During our review, we interviewed Commission staff,
     examined pertinent records, and reviewed four contracts which
     were entered into by the Commission. We did not evaluate the
     methodology contractors followed to develop their reports, or
     assess whether conclusions and recommendations in the final
     report were supported by contractor findings.


          The Federal Water Pollution Control Act Amendments of
     1972 (Public Law 92-500) (33 U.S.C. 1251) created the Commis-
     sion and required a study of all technological aspects and all


economic, social, and environmental effects of achieving the
act's 1983 water quality goals and effluent limitations.
The act required the Commission to report its findings and
recommendations to the Congress by October 18, 1975. The
Commission submitted its report on March 18, 1976, and was
subsequently terminated.

     Fifteen Commissioners from industry, State and local
governments, and the Congress comprised the Commission which
was chaired by the Vice President. The Commission was
organized by functional areas--technological, economic,
environmental impact, institutional assessment, and regional
assessment--and staffed by full-time professionals. Several
members of the professional staff were also aides to the
Commissioners to keep them informed of Commission activities.

     To develop information for the final report, the
Commission awarded about 90 contracts, which totaled about
$11 million, for various studies in the functional areas.
These contracts included

     -- technological and economic analyses of about 48
        industrial categories, including the iron and steel,
        petroleum refining, and pulp and paper processing

     -- 41 environmental assessments of various rivers and
        bays; and

     -- assessments involving the technological, economic,
        environmental, and institutional effects of the
        act in 11 geographical regions.

The contractors submitted final reports to the Commission
which were generally published for public access.

     Published Commission reports included the final report
of recommendations to the Congress (March 1976), a staff
report on issues and findings (April 1976), and four technical
volumes--technology assessment, economic impact, environmental
impact, and regional assessment--(April 1976).  Commission
staff told us that the information developed by the contractors
formed the basis for preparation of these reports.



     We did not find any inconsistency between Commission
procedures for selecting contractors and the objectivity of
Commission reports. The procedures which were established
in December 1973 included:

     -- Announcement in the Commerce Business Daily of a
        work plan for studies and a request for names and
        qualifications of interested contractors.

     -- Commission staff screening of contractor qualifi-
        cations, which included developing a list of
        contractors which should be requested to submit
        proposed plans of study.

     -- Staff evaluation of proposals based on such factors
        as experience, personnel, facilities, and quality
        of study plan. The highest rated contractor would
        be recommended for negotiations.

     -- Negotiation with the proposed contractor on contract
        requirements and terms, and submission of a final
        recommendation to Commission members for selection.

     -- Selection by the Commissioners.

     During this process the staff conducted meetings to
inform the Commissioners and their aides of the results of
each step. Thus, the Commissioners were involved or had an
opportunity to be involved before they made a final selec-
tion. All staff recommendations for the selection of con-
tractors were approved by the Commissioners, although, in
some instances, some Commissioners abstained from voting for
various reasons, such as not feeling qualified to vote on a
particular contract.

     Commission officials said that the selection procedures
established were adequate and were followed in the selection
of contractors.  Selecting contractors was often difficult
because some applicants had substantial ties with the indus-
tries being evaluated; however, officials said time constraints
for completion of work necessitated selecting firms which had
some expertise or background in the study area. In cases
involving the potential for contractor bias, the Commission
established committees to help the Commission staff monitor


contractor work. For example, the Commission established
an advisory committee to monitor the study of the National
Pollutant Discharge Elimination System, a permit program.
The potential existed for contractor bias on this study
because it was done by a firm which had recently completed
a study of the permit program for the Environmental Pro-
tection Agency and because the firm was headed by a former
Environmental Protection Agency official.

     Other controls in the contractor selection process to
protect the public interest included the direct involvement
of the Commissioners' aides and the large number of people
involved in making a final selection. The aides, who were
responsible for keeping the Commissioners informed of Com-
mission activities, had the opportunity to compare contractor
qualifications and sometimes directly participated in the
selection process as a member of one of the functional staffs.
The functional staffs assisted the contracting officer in
performing the various steps to select contractors for their
respective areas. In all, the Commissioners and their aides;
the Commission's executive staff, which included the executive
director, the contracting officer, and his assistants; and the
functional staffs were involved in selecting contractors.

     Our examination of documentation for the four contracts,
which totaled $905,000, showed that the Commission followed
established contractor selection procedures for three of the
contracts.  The remaining contract, which was for the col-
lection of water quality management data, was awarded without
competition in June 1973 prior to the establishment of selec-
tion procedures in December 1973. The contract was awarded
for $75,000. According to the Chairman's aide, the contractor
was recommended for selection by the Chairman of the Commission
based on previous work for New York State; the Commissioners
approved the selection.


     As discussed above, procedures to assure the integrity
and quality of contractor reports started with the selection
of the best qualified contractor, which included negotiation
of an acceptable study plan between the Commission and con-
tractor. To monitor contractor progress, the staff for the
functional area in which the contractor was working provided
a project officer who assisted the contracting officer in the
administration of the contract. The project officer was the


principal contact between the Commission and the contractor,
and the effectiveness of contractor monitoring depended on
how well the various project officers carried out their jobs.
A review of the project files showed that these officers
visited contractors and that contractors were required to
submit progress reports.

     Contractor report drafts underwent numerous reviews
before being accepted in final and, according to Commission
officials, drafts were revised by contractors as many as
three times. Reviews of contractor report drafts were done
by the appropriate functional staff and by.other Commission
staff, paid consultants, and one or more of seven advisory
committees which were established to monitor contract per-
formance or to review reports. For example, a committee
comprised of members from the National Academy of Sciences
and the National Academy of Engineering reviewed most reports.
In addition, contractor report drafts were circulated to
others having an interest in the reports, such as affected
industries and their associations, environmental groups,
and Federal and State environmental protection agencies.

     Reports from three of the four contracts we reviewed
underwent this extensive review procedure. For example, our
review of the contract for a study of the organic chemical
industry showed that the Commission's project officer pre-
pared and submitted comments, including changes to be made to
the report.  In addition, comments on the draft were received
from two consultants, the National Academy of Sciences, the
Environmental Protection Agency, chemical industries, and
a trade association.

     The report which did not undergo an extensive review
procedure involved the contract which, as previously dis-
cussed, was awarded when the Commission was just beginning
to organize. Furthermore, this report did not involve an
analysis of a subject covered by the five functional areas,
but rather was intended to develop a broad data base on
water quality.

     We believe that the report review process was adequate
and provided an opportunity for review and comment by public
and private groups. Its effectiveness depended on the ability
of the Commission staff to assure that legitimate review com-
ments were adequately considered by the contractor. We did
not evaluate the technical accuracy of comments submitted
on specific contractor reports.



     As stated above, the Commission prepared four technical
volumes, a staff report of issues and findings, and the final
report of recommendations to the Congress. The heads of the
functional areas were responsible for preparation of the tech-
nical volumes, whereas the Commission's executive staff coor-
dinated the preparation of the latter reports. Before issuing
the final report, the Commissioners met to consider and modify
the report's recommendations as prepared by the staff. Al-
though the Commissioners unanimously voted to submit the final
report to the Congress, dated March 18, 1976, most Commissioners
submitted separate views which were included with the final
report; many of these views opposed parts of the final report.
According to Commission officials, the Commissioners substan-
tially changed the draft report presented to them by the staff.

     Before issuing the final report in March 1976 and the
staff report in April 1976, public hearings were held in
Chicago, San Francisco, Fort Worth, Boston, and Washington,
D.C., during January 1976, to consider progress and problems in
achieving the goals of Public Law 92-500.  In addition, public
notice was given in the Federal Register requesting comments
on the third draft of the staff report. Comments were received
from private citizens; public officials at the Federal, State,
and local levels; environmental groups; industries; and indus-
trial associations. Many of these comments were summarized
to help others analyze them, and the Commission maintained a
library of comments which was available to the public.

     In general, the Commission developed its reports on the
basis of studies made by contractors and examined by public
and private groups. Commission reports, in turn, were widely
disseminated in draft and reviewed by persons with varied
backgrounds. We believe that the report review process
afforded the opportunity for close scrutiny by interested
parties and constituted reasonable methods for achieving
the Commission's mandate.

                              Sincerely yours,

                       ACTING Comp ro  r iGeeral
                             .of the United States

    REVIEW OF THE NATIONAL COMMISSION                            CED-77-33
    ON WATERIQUALITY'S REPORT                                       -:2 g
    REVIEW PROCEDURES/                                    3            1   °    77

        ^Chairman, Joh -Di-nii   l z-f thz1u-    Subcommittee on Energy

    and Power,ACommittee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce,       aske-i s t

    Lto=revi-ewthe manner in which the Nati(nal Commission on Water

    Quality developed its final report to the Congress.       ~ e'ir

    we examined whether the procedures established and followed by the

    Commission for developing and reviewing the report were consistent

    with objective reporting.    Issued on March 18, 1976, this report

    was the culmination of about 90 contractor studies which were

    undertaken to assess progress in 'chieving National water quality


         The Commission established contractor selection procedures which

    included evaluating qualifications and proposals of prospective con-

    tractors and monitoring contractor work progress.     Contractor and

     Commission reports were reviewed by Commission staff, consultants,

    industry, environmental groups, and public officials.       We believed

     the contracting procedures and report review process constituted

    reasonable methods for achieving the Commission's mandate.

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