GAO report critical of IJC efforts for communicating and assessing Plan 2014

Jul 27, 2020

A report from the Government Accounting Office says that the agency that helps regulate water levels on Lake Ontario needs to do a better job communicating with the public.

The report was issued last week by the GAO, which is a non-partisan, watchdog agency that reports to Congress. Its report focused not so much on the controversy over the technical aspects of the lake level management plan, called Plan 2014, but the way that the International Joint Commission has communicated elements of that plan to the public.

"We found that the commission doesn't effectively evaluate its efforts to communicate with stakeholders about these water releases. It also hasn't developed a comprehensive plan to assess and improve Plan 2014," the report said. "We recommended that U.S. commissioners work with their Canadian counterparts to develop more robust plans for communicating and for assessing Plan 2014."

Frank Bevacqua, a spokesman for the U.S.-Canadian panel, said the commission is receptive to the suggestions made by the GAO.

“What the GAO has recommended is that we follow best public relations practices, which includes researching the various stakeholders and how they get their information and being more targeted and effective in our delivery of that information," Bevacqua said.

Among those who have been critical of the report is Rep. John Katko of the Syracuse area, whose district includes Wayne County. He said the GAO report just highlights another problem with Plan 2014.

“They’re not being transparent enough, they’re not engaging the stakeholders and the shoreline communities and they’re not getting the data they need from the appropriate sources like the shoreline communities," said Katko.

Bevacqua said the commission has tried to involve stakeholders in the process.

“We’ve involved stakeholders in an advisory capacity directly in that review, including some of most prominent critics, and so, they’re at the table, they’re rolling up their sleeves," he said. "We’re really trying to see if we can reach a mutual understanding and make some improvement."

He said one key element to future communications is trying to build up trust among the people most affected by the decisions that impact water levels.

"You have an IJC that seems more interested in covering their butts than they are about giving us the straight scoop," said Katko. "What would be so wrong in saying, 'You know what? We tried Plan 2014 as we were told, and you know what guys? It’s just not working the way it should, so let’s fix it.' But they don’t seem to be intent on doing that and that’s really concerning to me."