Consensus Report

Rethinking the Components, Coordination, and Management of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Laboratories (2014)


Each report is produced by a committee of experts selected by the Academy to address a particular statement of task and is subject to a rigorous, independent peer review; while the reports represent views of the committee, they also are endorsed by the Academy. Learn more on our expert consensus reports.

As an agency with the mission and regulatory responsibility to protect human health and the environment, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires substantial high-quality in-house scientific expertise and laboratory capabilities so that it can answer questions related to regulation, enforcement, and environmental effects of specific chemicals, activities, and processes. EPA’s laboratory system consists of a distributed network of three general types of laboratories:
-- Regional office laboratories provide scientific data that support the needs of regional environmental programs for informing immediate and near-term decisions on environmental conditions, emergency response, compliance, and enforcement.
-- National regulatory program office laboratories develop and provide specific programs that support decisions on regulations, compliance, and enforcement related to legislative mandates at a national level.
-- Office of Research and Development laboratories develop knowledge, assessments, and scientific tools that underpin decisions about EPA’s regulatory standards, risk assessments, and risk-management decisions.

EPA is currently undertaking an integrated evaluation of its laboratories to enhance the management, effectiveness, and efficiency of its laboratory network and to enhance its capabilities for research and other laboratory-based scientific and technical activities. As part of that effort, EPA asked the National Research Council to form a committee to assess the agency’s highest-priority needs for mission-relevant laboratory science and technical support, to develop principles for the efficient and effective management of EPA's laboratory enterprise to meet the agency's mission needs and strategic goals, and to develop guidance for enhancing efficiency and effectiveness now and during the next 10 years.

The committee found that EPA laboratories could become more effective and efficient through a rethinking of its system of laboratories from an enterprise perspective. The committee recommended that the actions EPA should take to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of its laboratory enterprise should be organized around the concept of a system that maintains the strength of the individual laboratory types while providing systematic collaboration and communication throughout the agency, the report finds.

The committee also developed an analytic framework for each type of laboratory and the entire enterprise to help EPA align its laboratory facilities, functions, and capabilities with the highest-priority scientific needs related to the agency’s strategic goals, such as addressing climate change, improving air quality, and protecting America’s waters.