Monday, October 29, 2007

Government Accountability Office Releases Report on Federal Rural Water and Wastewater Programs

Last month the Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report on four programs that fund rural water and wastewater projects. Over the last three fiscal years (2004-2006), they collectively provide about $49 billion in grants and loans. The vast majority of this was through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) ($42 billion). Other agencies reviewed include the Economic Development Administration (EDA), Bureau of Reclamation and Corp of Engineers.

USDA and EDA have established nationwide programs and eligibility criteria. EDA funds water, wastewater and other public works projects in areas considered economically depressed under the agency’s criteria. These projects must result in creating or preserving jobs. USDA programs are for rural areas (cities of 10,000 or less and unincorporated rural areas) without economic criteria or eligibility.

The Corp and Reclamation have not traditionally operated general programs. They have undertaken projects under specific Congressional mandates, mostly pilot projects for the Corp. In 2006, new legislation directed Reclamation to develop a general water and wastewater grants program, though this would be regional rather than nationwide like USDA and EDA.
The report did not include programs administered through the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Housing and Urban Development. These programs are largely operated by state agencies that receive grants from the federal agencies responsible for overseeing the programs.