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Interim Report of the Committee on Research and Peer Review in EPA BACKGROUND The research program conducted by the U.S. Environmental ProtectionAgency's Office of Research and Development (ORD) comprises bothintramural and extramural research, plus a mixture of activitiesin risk-assessment methods development and application, regulatorycriteria development, and technical services in support of the agency's regulatory, enforcement, and regional offices. ORD has about 1,830staff members at 12 geographically dispersed laboratories, threefield stations, four assessment centers, and the headquarters officein Washington, D.C., plus an extramural research budget of $378 millionfor grants, cooperative and interagency agreements, and contracts. The research programs and overall scientific credibility of the EnvironmentalProtection Agency (EPA) have been assessed many times by independentexpert groups since the agency was created in 1970. As early as 1974,concerns about ORD's mission, organization, and research planningprocess were expressed by a National Research Council committee (NRC,1974). Three years later, a set of important recommendations thateventually helped to define the current ORD program were made inthe National Research Council report Analytical Studies for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency,Volume III: Research and Development in the Environmental ProtectionAgency (NRC, 1977). Among the recommendations of the 1977 reportwere that all EPA research should be centralized in ORD; that ORDshould conduct a mixture of fundamental, anticipatory, and regulatorysupport research; that an integrated risk-assessment office shouldbe created in ORD; and that an extramural program of research grantsand centers should be established. Although those particular recommendationswere essentially followed by EPA, some others were not. For instance,the report also called for a legislative mandate defining EPA's researchmission, the development of a coordinated interagency strategic planfor environmental research, and nonmanagerial career advancementpaths for EPA research scientists. Nearly two decades later, thelatter recommendations still had not been implemented. EPA's own Science Advisory Board (SAB) has also recommended changes inthe agency's research program many times over the years. Especiallyimportant among the SAB reports of recent years were Future Risk: Research Strategies for the 1990s (EPASAB, 1988) and Reducing Risk: Setting Priorities and Strategies for Environmentalthe need for EPA and its research program to shift emphasis fromtraditional command-and-control and cleanup strategies to the anticipationand prevention of pollution problems. Among its recommendations,the 1988 report called for ORD to expand its long-term research program,emphasizing core research areas in which EPA has special capabilities and
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Interim Report of the Committee on Research and Peer Review in EPA responsibilities. It also recommended that ORD place greater emphasison anticipatory studies and monitoring, understanding human exposureto pollutants, and epidemiological research. The 1988 report urgedEPA to increase its efforts in public education, technology transfer,and education of environmental scientists. Reducing Risk: Setting Priorities and Strategies for EnvironmentalProtection (EPASAB, 1990), stressed the need for EPA and its research program to become more proactive. It argued that EPA and its researchprogram, which have finite resources, must move beyond the agency's longstanding practice of fragmented regulatory program responsesto individual statutory mandates, and move toward more cost-effectivelyaddressing the greatest health and environmental risks and pursuingthe greatest opportunities for reducing those risks. Among its recommendations,the 1990 report also urged that ORD place greater emphasis on ecologicalrisks and the development of better risk assessment methods and data. In 1992, a panel of four scientists (including two members of thepresent committee) was asked by Administrator William Reilly to recommendways to improve the quality and credibility of science in EPA, includingthe research program and the use of scientific information in decisionmaking.The panel's report, Safeguarding the Future: Credible Science, Credible Decisions (EPA, 1992), emphasized the crucial need for science to help reduceuncertainty in EPA's decisionmaking, target the environmental problemsthat pose the greatest risks, anticipate future environmental problems,and bolster the agency's credibility. The panel found that EPA sciencewas uneven in quality and often perceived to be weak, although itacknowledged that the perceptions were unfair in some cases. It concludedthat the research program and scientific quality assurance in theagency lacked a coherent plan or sufficient priority. It expressedconcerns about EPA's ability to attract and retain first-rate researchscientists in its laboratories and research grants program. The panel's recommendations included calls for improvement in EPA's research-planning and budget process, the appointment of a scienceadviser to the administrator, greater use of scientific peer reviewin regulatory decisionmaking, improvement and expansion of the researchgrants program, less use of laboratory contractors, greater emphasison outreach and scientific collaboration with other organizations,and strong efforts to attract, retain, and develop top laboratoryscientists. Stronger coordination and planning of environmental research amongU.S. agencies and greater outreach and research collaboration withother organizations in this country and abroad were also among theprincipal recommendations of Environmental Research and Development - Strengthening the FederalGovernment, 1992) and Research to Protect, Restore, and Manage the Environment (NRC, 1993). Although the scope of both reports was governmentwide,and therefore much broader than EPA, these reports also presentedrecommendations for organizational changes in EPA's research program. The National Research Council's Board on Environmental Studies and Toxicology, which oversees thepresent committee, has issued several reports urging improvementsin specific parts of EPA's R&D program. Recent examples of such reportsare Rethinking
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