A new report from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Inspector General says a unit of the agency's Gulf Coast region mismanaged coastal restoration funds and should reimburse the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for $780,793, unless the regional office can document the spending complied with federal law.

In an Oct. 9 report, EPA IG Arthur Elkins Jr. says that, from 2010 to 2013, EPA Region 6's water-quality protection division (WQPD) used Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection and Restoration Act (CWPPRA) funds for purposes that were not consistent with that 1990 statute's authority or with appropriations laws and interagency agreements.

Elkins says the division did not accurately record labor and contractor costs charged to the CWPPRA program. The inaccurate reporting occurred because the division lacked controls to ensure the funds were used for their intended purpose, the report concluded.

That intended purpose was to plan and implement coastal-wetlands restoration projects approved by the Gulf Coast Restoration Task Force to provide for long-term wetlands and wildlife conservation.

In some cases, employees incorrectly charged travel and other unrelated expenses to the CWPRRA program, the IG report asserts.

“The effectiveness of the CWPPRA program in restoring and protecting coastal wetlands is impaired if WQPD management does not properly spend and account for CWPPRA resources,” the report concludes.

EPA Regional Administrator Ron Curry, reponding to the report, disputed that $780,793 had been misspent. A preliminary review of the costs that IG questioned identified less than $50,000 that may have been incorrectly charged to CWPPRA, Curry said.

Although the regional office agreed that controls need to be put in place, the Corps of Engineers has never disputed how funds were being spent, Curry added.

Moreover, the regional office already has implemented some reforms to ensure more accurate reporting of administrative costs, such as payroll and travel.

Nevertheless, Curry said Region 6’s water-quality protection division and comptroller’s offices will work to identify where expenditures may have been misallocated and, when necessary, make corrections.