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Government Needs Better Data Before It Can Use Environmental Indicators
The Government Accounting Office has issued a 122 page report on the federal Government's use of environmental indicators. According to GAO, "Environmental indicator sets assemble quantitative measures of conditions and trends (known as indicators) to assess the state of the environment and natural resources and to gauge progress toward specific goals." Environmental indicators sets in theory allow federal agencies to determine what else needs to be done to achieve environmental and natural resource protection goals, but the usefulness of the indicator sets depends on the data they contain.

GAO found that the data contained in the Government's current indicator sets are not always accurate, reliable and complete. In GAO's own words, "Because of problems filling gaps in existing data and difficulties in integrating data from different databases, indicator set developers' efforts to identify data of sufficient quality from existing data sources has met with limited success." The GAO report identifies and discusses several other serious problems with the Government's use of environmental indicator sets. Winston, however, thinks that the other problems are secondary to the threshold question about any environmental indicator set. Does it contain useful information. According to the GAO report, the current answer to this question is often 'no.'

  • Click for GAO Report.

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