The EPA staff at the Chesapeake Bay Program needs to be complimented for the excellent work they do.

The last few years have not been easy ones for those working on the Chesapeake's restoration. Keeping up one's spirits in the Bay cleanup effort can be a daunting task.

Criticism of the effort seem to come from all sides-the news media, the administration, Congress, environmental groups, farmers, waterman, developers and others.

The program has weathered several top-to-bottom reviews. First it was a Government Accountability Office review. Then there was an analysis by the Office of Management and Budget. On top of that there were seven investigations by the EPA and/or USDA Inspectors Generals offices.

Lastly, there was a study by the National Association of Public Administrators.

All of the reviews showed that there were some management changes in the program that would improve efficiency and it is moving forward on all of these recommendations.

One study that received little note was an analysis of the contracting and grants administration of the program. That study found that the program was allocating its dollars properly and there were no improprieties in their contracting processes.

I think this may be a first for any government agency and the Bay Program should be recognized for its high degree of integrity and its stewardship of public funds.

Now the program is engaged in providing a five-year report to Congress as required under section 117 of the Clean Water Act. The program is culling the findings of more than 25 studies that have been conducted on its operations over the last few years and is discussing how they have been addressed and what steps are being taken to accelerate restoration.

In addition, the program is creating a separate, required report to Congress known as the Chesapeake Action Plan. This report, which is vital to the success of the Bay restoration effort, combines management options and dashboard indicators across the Bay Program, including fisheries management, healthy habitats, healthy waters, healthy watersheds, stewardship and multi-agency partnership building.

The CAP will be completed in the next few months and will provide version 1.0 for the future management and monitoring of Chesapeake cleanup progress.

While this plan is necessary in its own right, Congress has created an incentive for its creation by withholding $5 million of Bay cleanup funding. If it is not submitted in time, the program will lose those dollars permanently after the end of the current fiscal year.

With all of the reviews, analyses and reports that have been required over the last few years, I think everyone would agree that the management and science of the Chesapeake Bay restoration effort is stronger than it would have been without such vigorous reviews.

It is also true that the EPA staff at the Chesapeake Bay Program needs to be commended for the unflagging spirit that they have shown over the last few years and their dedication to doing the job right. They have held up well under the spotlight.

We should all have increased confidence that we have the most sophisticated and most advanced estuary restoration program in the world.

Now we need our elected officials at the federal, state and local levels to come to the table with equal dedication and provide the financial resources necessary to create a healthy Chesapeake region.

Science and management are not the factors that are keeping future generations from experiencing a clean Chesapeake-the lack of political will from our elected officials to appropriate the necessary funds is the primary issue.

So remember, it is only working together that we can finish the job.