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HUGE ERROR RATE DISCOVERED IN WASTE-TRACKING SYSTEM

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The national computer system set up at a cost of $23.8 million to track hazardous materials has a huge error rate that makes it almost useless, congressional auditors say.

"The system is not working, and a good deal of taxpayer money has been wasted," Sen. John Glenn, D-Ohio, who commissioned the General Accounting Office audit, said Wednesday.From 1985 through 1993, the Environmental Protection Agency spent $23.8 million to design and develop the Resource Conservation and Recovery Information System, or RCRIS. The EPA said it is spending $1.1 million this year to operate the system.

A spot-check by the EPA's regional office in Dallas turned up 15,000 mistakes by 45,000 hazardous waste handlers, according to the audit.

The GAO also examined random samples of a portion of the data-base dealing with groundwater monitoring and found error rates as low as 3 percent and as high as 53 percent.

The GAO also checked with Arkansas, California, Florida, Mississippi, Nevada and Texas and found that most of those states "do not use it to meet their needs."

Neither do the people at EPA headquarters.

They routinely ask state or regional offices to check the files before using information from the confusing computer, according to the GAO.

Unlike home computers, which use point-and-click technology to open and close files and lets users give commands in regular English, the government computer requires users to turn information into codes.