GAO

GAO-19-436R, Hardrock Mining: BLM and Forest Service Hold Billions in Financial Assurances, but More Readily Available Information Could Assist with Monitoring, September 18, 2019

The U.S. Department of the Interior's Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Forest Service hold billions of dollars in financial assurances, such as bonds, for nearly 2,000 hardrock mining operations for gold, silver, copper, and other hardrock minerals on federal land. The agencies have various practices for monitoring the adequacy of these assurances to cover estimated costs to reclaim—or restore and clean up—the land when operations cease. As of October 2017, BLM held over $3 billion in financial assurances, which was approximately $11 million less than what BLM estimated was needed to cover reclamation costs. According to agency officials, BLM determines whether financial assurances are sufficient to cover estimated reclamation costs and annual reviews are done on time through its annual state certification process. As part of this process, BLM prepares an annual report that is to identify, among other things, which operations have inadequate financial assurances or have not had their financial assurances reviewed in a timely manner. This report also identifies the number of corrective action plans to be prepared by BLM offices to address any such deficiencies. BLM needs such information to help ensure financial assurances will be sufficient to cover estimated reclamation costs. However, based on data GAO reviewed, the annual report did not identify all the instances in which a corrective action plan was required. Agency officials said this occurred because the computer program that generated the report did not reflect all requirements in the state certification guidance. Modifying the computer program so that it identifies all instances in which a corrective action plan is needed would provide BLM with greater assurance that funds will be adequate to reclaim the land should the operator fail to do so when mining operations cease. The Forest Service held approximately $251 million in financial assurances, as of November 2018. However, GAO was not able to determine the extent to which these financial assurances were adequate to cover estimated reclamation costs because the Forest Service's data system does not contain certain data needed to do so—such information is maintained in over 500 individual paper case files in the forest or district offices across 14 states. As a result, headquarters officials cannot readily determine whether forest or district offices are ensuring that financial assurances are adequate. Further, the data system includes a field for the date of the most recent review of the adequacy of the financial assurance, but Forest Service officials told GAO that forest and district offices generally do not populate the field and are not required to do so. Establishing a requirement to record this data would enable Forest Service headquarters' officials to efficiently determine whether annual reviews—a key mechanism to help ensure the adequacy of financial assurances—are occurring as required. The General Mining Act of 1872 encouraged the development of the nation's mineral resources by allowing individuals to stake claims and obtain exclusive rights to valuable hardrock mineral deposits on land belonging to the United States. Since then, thousands of operators have extracted billions of dollars' worth of hardrock minerals from land managed by BLM and the Forest Service. However, some operators did not reclaim thousands of acres of federal land disturbed for exploration, mining, and mineral processing when their operations ceased. Some of these disturbed lands pose serious environmental and physical safety hazards, such as contaminated soil, open mine shafts, and decaying structures. To help ensure lands will be reclaimed, BLM and the Forest Service have issued regulations requiring all hardrock mining operators to reclaim disturbed land when operations cease and provide financial assurance to guarantee reclamation. These regulations require operators to provide a reclamation plan and financial assurances to BLM or the Forest Service before beginning exploration or mining operations. This report examines the value and adequacy of financial assurances that mining operators have provided to BLM and the Forest Service to guarantee estimated reclamation costs and how these agencies monitor the adequacy of these financial assurances. To conduct this work, GAO reviewed BLM and Forest Service financial assurance data and the agencies' regulations and policies on financial assurances. GAO compared the agencies' data and monitoring practices against federal internal control standards to assess the adequacy of the practices. GAO is making three recommendations, including one to BLM and two to the Forest Service. Specifically, GAO recommends that BLM modify its computer program that generates its annual report to identify all the instances in which a corrective action plan is required. GAO also recommends that the Forest Service develop a centralized mechanism to record the estimated cost of reclamation for a mining operation, so it can be compared with the financial assurance held to ensure the assurances in place are adequate. The Forest Service should also require forest and district offices to enter the date of their last annual review in its data system. BLM and Forest Service concurred with GAO's recommendations. For more information, contact Anne-Marie Fennell at 202-512-3841 or fennella@gao.gov.

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GAO-19-339, Environmental Liabilities: DOE Would Benefit from Incorporating Risk-Informed Decision-Making into Its Cleanup Policy, September 18, 2019

The Department of Energy's (DOE) Office of Environmental Management (EM) follows certain laws—including the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act—agreements, federal guidance, and court decisions, which establish standards and procedures for DOE's cleanup of hazardous and radioactive waste. However, DOE does not have a framework for implementing these requirements and guidance to make cleanup decisions in a risk-informed manner. For example, DOE's 2017 cleanup policy, which governs the EM cleanup program, does not direct how EM should make environmental cleanup decisions, including how to make risk-informed cleanup decisions. For more than 20 years, several organizations—including the DOE Inspector General and GAO—have recommended that DOE adopt a risk-informed approach. By revising EM's 2017 cleanup policy to establish how EM should apply the essential elements of a risk-informed decision-making framework into its current decision-making requirements and guidance, DOE sites would be better able to implement consistent decision-making processes and ensure that resource allocation is risk informed to the extent practicable. To assist agencies, such as DOE, in identifying and implementing the essential elements of risk-informed decision-making, GAO synthesized key concepts from relevant literature and input from experts who participated in GAO's meeting convened by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (National Academies). GAO subsequently developed a framework to be relevant to multiple types of cleanup decisions, from selecting a cleanup approach at a single site to prioritizing cleanup activities across sites. According to literature, entities implementing the framework should ensure that their decision-making process is participatory, logical, transparent, and traceable, and that it uses current scientific knowledge to produce technically credible results. The framework consists of four broad phases: (1) designing the decision-making process, (2) analyzing different options, (3) deciding which option is preferred, and (4) implementing and evaluating the preferred option. Each phase consists of several steps, such as identifying stakeholders, developing an analysis plan, and validating the analysis (see figure). Figure: Phases and Steps of a Risk-Informed Decision-Making Framework to Address Environmental Cleanup Decisions As of 2018, the U.S. government faced an estimated $577 billion in environmental liabilities. DOE is responsible for more than 85 percent of these liabilities. DOE is charged with cleaning up contamination from nuclear weapons production and energy research dating back to World War II and the Cold War, which generated large quantities of liquid and solid radioactive waste and contaminated soil and water. Since the mid-1990s, GAO and others have recommended that DOE adopt a risk-informed approach to making cleanup decisions—that is, an approach that helps agencies consider trade-offs among risk, cost, and other factors in the face of uncertainty and diverse stakeholder perspectives. GAO was asked to review DOE's environmental cleanup decision-making. This report examines (1) the extent to which DOE has a framework for making risk-informed cleanup decisions, and (2) essential elements of a framework for making risk-informed cleanup decisions. GAO conducted a literature review, interviewed DOE officials, and convened an experts' meeting through the National Academies regarding risk-informed decision-making. GAO is making two recommendations, including that DOE revise EM's 2017 cleanup policy to establish how EM should apply the essential elements of a risk-informed decision-making framework into its current decision-making requirements and guidance. DOE agreed with both recommendations. For more information, contact David C. Trimble at (202) 512-3841 or trimbled@gao.gov.

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GAO-20-77R, Drinking Water State Revolving Fund: Limited Information Available on State or Local Requirements That Are Equivalent to Federal Cross-Cutting Environmental Requirements, October 18, 2019

Sixteen federal cross-cutting environmental requirements apply to the grants states receive from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to capitalize their Drinking Water State Revolving Funds (SRFs) and the loans that utilities and municipalities receive from state Drinking Water SRFs, according to EPA guidance and officials. These cross-cutting requirements are generally found in laws other than the Safe Drinking Water Act as well as Executive Orders and apply to all projects and programs that receive federal financial assistance. EPA guidance issued in 2003 and 2015 identify these cross-cutting requirements. According to this guidance and EPA officials, the Clean Air Act, National Environmental Policy Act, and 14 other environmental cross-cutting requirements apply to certain loan projects and activities funded by the Drinking Water SRF. Limited information is available on whether federal cross-cutting environmental requirements that apply to projects financed through the Drinking Water SRF program are equivalent to state or local requirements. EPA officials GAO interviewed were not certain of requirements at the state or local level that are equivalent to federal cross-cutting environmental requirements for the Drinking Water SRF program. However, they stated that states with larger tribal populations may have requirements similar to section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act. They also noted that states bordering oceans and states with more low lying areas may have more stringent flood plain management requirements than Flood Plain Management Executive Order 11988. In addition, officials GAO interviewed five organizations that represent drinking water systems and states, such as the Association of State Drinking Water Administrators and the American Water Works Association, did not have specific examples of environmental requirements at the state or local level that are equivalent to federal environmental requirements. Further, GAO’s literature review did not identify any materials addressing state or local laws that are equivalent to federal cross-cutting environmental requirements. An effort by the Council of Environmental Quality is underway to develop memoranda which compare and contrast state and local environmental review requirements with the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) requirements. None of the memoranda completed as of August 2019 determine whether state and local requirements are equivalent to NEPA. The grants states receive from EPA to capitalize their Drinking Water SRFs and the loans that utilities and municipalities receive from state Drinking Water SRFs are subject to environmental and other federal cross-cutting requirements. The America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018 includes a provision for GAO to examine federal cross-cutting environmental requirements and potentially equivalent state and local requirements. This report describes (1) the federal cross-cutting environmental requirements that apply to drinking water infrastructure projects financed by loans from the Drinking Water SRF program; and (2) what is known about which federal cross-cutting environmental requirements are equivalent to state or local requirements. GAO reviewed EPA’s guidance and interviewed EPA officials. Additionally, GAO conducted a literature review that included law reviews and journals to find any reviews, reports, or analyses that addressed state or local requirements equivalent to federal cross-cutting environmental requirements. GAO also interviewed officials from five organizations that represent or assist states, local governments, or drinking water systems. GAO is not making any recommendations in this report. For more information, contact J. Alfredo Gómez at (202) 512-3841 or gomezj@gao.gov.

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GAO-20-29, Unmanned Aircraft Systems: FAA's Compliance and Enforcement Approach for Drones Could Benefit from Improved Communication and Data, October 17, 2019

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) safety inspectors GAO met with said that law enforcement is an important source of information when they investigate potentially unsafe small unmanned aircraft systems’ (UAS) operations. The inspectors also told GAO that they take actions to educate operators or enforce penalties, in line with FAA policies, but that they face several challenges, including obtaining key information for investigations. Inspectors explained that of the multiple sources that may provide information for UAS investigations, reports from state and local law enforcement generally provide the most useful and actionable information. However, most law enforcement stakeholders GAO met with (9 of 11) stated that officers may not know how to respond to UAS incidents or what information to share with FAA. While FAA has articulated the pivotal role local law enforcement can play, and has developed resources for these entities, FAA has not consistently communicated this information to its law enforcement partners. For example, while about half of the inspectors told us they regularly conduct outreach to law enforcement agencies, the remainder said their efforts have been limited. Without a clear approach to communicate to the tens of thousands of state and local law enforcement agencies across the country, FAA does not have reasonable assurance these agencies are armed with knowledge they need to help FAA identify and address unsafe UAS operations. Examples of Locations and Sources for Information on Potentially Unsafe UAS Use While FAA plans to continue its existing approach for small UAS safety oversight—focusing on operator education, targeted surveillance, and working with law enforcement—agency officials have not identified how they will use or improve existing data or considered whether additional data may be needed to assess their approach. FAA officials also said they will adjust their efforts moving forward based on semi-annual assessments of data. The agency, however, has not fully analyzed existing UAS safety data to identify trends in UAS incidents, and officials acknowledge these data have limitations (e.g., UAS data entries cannot be easily identified). In addition, FAA does not currently have plans to determine what existing or new data or information could help inform whether FAA’s oversight efforts are working as intended. Taking steps to identify and obtain key data will enable FAA to assess its existing approach and determine what further activities, if any, it should undertake to ensure safety. These steps will be important as the number and type of UAS operations the agency is responsible for overseeing expands. The use of small UAS—those weighing less than 55 pounds—continues to grow. As part of its safety mandate, FAA regulates and oversees UAS operations’ compliance, which includes prohibiting small UAS operators from endangering the life or property of another, among other things. Recent airport closures attributed to UAS sightings highlight the unique challenges small UAS pose to aviation safety oversight. GAO was asked to examine the integration of small UAS operations into FAA’s safety oversight framework. This report examines: (1) how FAA’s aviation safety inspectors conduct small UAS compliance and enforcement, and challenges they face in doing so, and (2) the extent to which FAA is planning for compliance and enforcement in an evolving UAS environment. GAO reviewed relevant statutes and regulations, FAA guidance and reports; and interviewed FAA officials including headquarters and aviation safety inspectors at 11 FAA district offices selected to obtain geographic distribution and other criteria. GAO also interviewed FAA law enforcement special agents and selected state or local law enforcement agencies in each district. GAO has three recommendations, including that FAA: (1) develop an approach to communicate to local law enforcement agencies expectations for their role in UAS investigations, and (2) identify and obtain data needed to evaluate FAA’s small UAS compliance and enforcement activities, as the UAS environment evolves. FAA concurred with the recommendations. For more information, contact Heather Krause at (202) 512-2834 or Krauseh@gao.gov.

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GAO-20-32, Highway Emergency Relief: Federal Highway Administration Should Enhance Accountability over Project Decisions, October 17, 2019

GAO found that the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) did not document the bases for decisions to classify projects as emergency repairs in 22 of the 25 project files reviewed. Without such documentation, it is not possible to definitively determine the justification for these decisions; GAO identified at least three projects that may have been inappropriately classified. For example, FHWA classified a $10.7 million ferry project in Lynchburg, Texas as an emergency repair to restore essential traffic. Several highways, however, were available immediately following the disaster that service the same locations and result in faster travel times than the ferry. FHWA guidance does not require officials to document decisions to classify projects as emergency repairs or clearly define what constitutes restoration of essential traffic. Designating projects as emergency repairs can increase the federal fiscal exposure in disasters. Had FHWA classified the ferry project as a permanent repair—instead of an emergency repair—the state would have been responsible for paying approximately $2.1 million in matching funds. Travel Times Using The Lynchburg Ferry and Alternative Routes GAO also identified two temporary bridge projects in Puerto Rico classified as emergency repairs even though (1) work did not start within180 days of a disaster, as generally required; (2) the bridges are not to be completed until late 2019 and early 2020; and (3) both are to be replaced by permanent bridges within a couple of years. Out of approximately 1,200 eligible projects in Puerto Rico, FHWA officials reported undertaking 34, including the two bridges GAO identified, after 180 days. Officials also stated they did not document the basis for continuing to classify these projects as emergency repairs. FHWA officials in Puerto Rico stated they were not required to complete repairs within the 180 day limit established in law because Congress exempted Puerto Rico from federal matching share requirements. Further, emergency repair projects are allowed to expedite contracting and environmental procedures. After GAO raised this issue with FHWA, the agency stated that emergency repair projects are only permitted to use these expedited procedures within the first 180 days. While officials stated they plan to update guidance to include this policy, there is no specific timeline for doing so. Why GAO Did This Study In 2017, hurricanes in Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico caused $1 billion in estimated damage. FHWA's Emergency Relief Program provides funding for states to repair or reconstruct federal-aid highways damaged or destroyed by natural disasters, including funding for emergency and permanent repairs. As of September 2019, FHWA has allocated $634 million in federal funds to the two states and Puerto Rico. By statute, emergency repairs are undertaken during or immediately following a disaster to quickly restore essential traffic and minimize further damage. These repairs receive 100 percent federal reimbursement if accomplished within 180 days and may proceed under expedited contracting and environmental procedures. GAO was asked to evaluate the federal response to the 2017 disasters. This report assesses how FHWA applied program guidance to classify selected emergency relief projects, among other objectives. GAO visited 33 out of approximately 2,500 projects in Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico; analyzed 25 emergency repair project files; and interviewed FHWA, state, and local government officials. FHWA should (1) document decisions to classify projects as emergency repairs and more clearly define what constitutes restoration of essential traffic, and (2) identify a specific timeline for clarifying the policy on when expedited contracting and environmental procedures are permitted. DOT concurred with GAO's recommendations and provided technical comments that GAO incorporated as appropriate. For more information, contact Susan Fleming at (202) 512-2834 or FlemingS@gao.gov.

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GAO-20-209T, Freedom of Information Act: DHS Needs to Reduce Backlogged Requests and Eliminate Duplicate Processing, October 17, 2019

The Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) responsibilities for processing Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests are split between the department's Privacy Office, which acts as its central FOIA office, and FOIA offices in the department's component agencies, such as U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. In 2018, GAO reported that DHS had implemented several methods to reduce backlogged FOIA requests, including sending monthly emails to its components on backlog statistics and conducting oversight. In addition, several DHS components, implemented actions to reduce their backlogs. Due to efforts by the department, the backlog dropped 66 percent in fiscal year 2015, decreasing to 35,374 requests. Although there was initial progress by the end of fiscal year 2015, the number of backlogged requests increased in fiscal years 2016 and 2018 (see figure). One reason DHS was struggling to consistently reduce its backlogs is that it lacked documented, comprehensive plans that would provide a more reliable, sustainable approach to addressing backlogs and describe how it will implement best practices for reducing backlogs over time. Number of Backlogged FOIA Requests for DHS, Fiscal Years 2012-2018 DHS attributed the increase in its FOIA backlogs to several factors, including the increased numbers and complexity of requests received and the volume of responsive records for those requests. Until it develops a plan to implement best practices to reduce its backlogs, DHS will likely continue to struggle to reduce the backlogs to a manageable level. In addition, in 2014 GAO reported that certain immigration-related requests were processed twice by two different DHS components. The duplicate processing of such requests by the two components contributed to an increase in the time needed to respond to the requests. GAO continued to report this issue in its 2019 annual product on opportunities to reduce fragmentation, overlap, and duplication. FOIA requires federal agencies to provide the public with access to government records and information based on the principles of openness and accountability in government. Each year, individuals and entities file hundreds of thousands of FOIA requests. DHS continues to receive and process the largest number of FOIA requests of any federal department or agency. For fiscal year 2018, over 40 percent of federal FOIA requests (about 396,000) belonged to DHS. GAO was asked to summarize its November 2014 and June 2018 reports which addressed, among other things, (1) DHS's methods to reduce backlogged FOIA requests and (2) duplication in DHS's processing of FOIA requests. In conducting this prior work, GAO evaluated the department's and components' FOIA policies, procedures, reports, and other documentation; and interviewed agency officials. GAO also followed up on its recommendations to determine their implementation status. In its prior reports, GAO made five recommendations to DHS. These included, among other things, that DHS (1) take steps to develop and document a plan that fully addressed best practices with regard to reducing the number of backlogged FOIA requests and (2) eliminate duplicative processing of immigration-related requests. The department agreed with the recommendations. However, as of October 2019, DHS had not fully implemented all of them. For more information, contact Vijay A. D’Souza at (202) 512-6240 or dsouzav@gao.gov.

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GAO-20-152T, VA Health Care: Actions Needed to Ensure Provider Qualifications and Competence, October 16, 2019

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) needs to take action to ensure its health care providers have the appropriate qualifications and clinical abilities to deliver high quality, safe care to veterans, as GAO recommended in its February 2019 and November 2017 reports. Specifically, GAO found the following: VA medical centers took action against some providers who did not meet VA licensure requirements, but overlooked others. In its 2019 report, GAO found that some VA medical centers took administrative or disciplinary actions against these providers, such as removing them from employment, after becoming aware of disqualifying information in the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB). The NPDB is an electronic repository that contains information on providers who have been disciplined by a state licensing board, among other information. However, in some cases VA medical centers overlooked or were unaware of disqualifying information in the NPDB. For example, officials told GAO they inadvertently overlooked a disqualifying adverse action and hired a provider whose license had been revoked for patient neglect. GAO found three reasons for this inconsistency: lack of mandatory training for key staff, gaps in Veterans Health Administration (VHA) policies, and inadequate oversight. Selected VA medical centers' reviews of providers' clinical care were not always documented. The five selected VA medical centers that GAO included in its 2017 report were required to review 148 providers' clinical care after concerns were raised about their care from October 2013 through March 2017. However, officials at these medical centers could not provide documentation to show that almost half of these reviews had been conducted. GAO found two reasons for inadequate documentation of these reviews: gaps in VHA policies and inadequate oversight of the reviews. Selected VA medical centers did not report providers to the NPDB or to state licensing boards as required. The five selected VA medical centers that GAO included in its 2017 report had reported one of nine providers to the NPDB that they were required to report from October 2013 through March 2017. None of these providers were reported to state licensing boards, as required by VHA policy. These nine providers either had adverse privileging actions taken against them—actions that limit the care providers can deliver at a facility or prevent the providers from delivering care altogether—or resigned or retired while under investigation before such an action could be taken. GAO found two reasons providers were not reported: lack of awareness or understanding of VHA policies and inadequate oversight of this reporting. GAO made 11 recommendations in its 2019 and 2017 reports to address the deficiencies identified. VA implemented two of these 11 recommendations, and provided action plans to address the other nine recommendations. Nearly 165,000 licensed health care providers, such as physicians and nurses, provide care in VHA's VA medical centers and outpatient facilities. Medical center staff must determine whether to hire and retain health care providers by reviewing and verifying information about their qualifications and practice history. The NPDB is a key source of information about a provider's clinical practice history. Medical center staff must also investigate any concerns that arise about the clinical care their providers deliver. Depending on the findings from these reviews, medical centers may take an adverse privileging action against a provider. VA medical centers are required to report providers to the NPDB and state licensing boards under certain circumstances. Failing to adhere to these requirements can negatively affect patient safety. This testimony is primarily based on GAO's 2019 and 2017 reports on VHA processes for reviewing and reporting quality and safety concerns about VA providers. It addresses VA medical centers' implementation and VHA's oversight of (1) reviews of adverse information about providers in the NPDB; (2) reviews of providers' clinical care after concerns are raised; and (3) reporting of providers to the NPDB and state licensing boards. For the 2019 report, GAO reviewed a nongeneralizable sample of 57 VA providers who had an NPDB report. For the 2017 report, GAO reviewed providers whose clinical care was reviewed after a concern was raised about that care at a nongeneralizable selection of five VA medical centers. For more information, contact Sharon M. Silas at (202) 512-7114 or silass@gao.gov.

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GAO-20-167, Natural Gas Storage: Actions Needed to Assess Inspection Workload and Progress toward Safety Outcomes, October 16, 2019

In 2018, the U.S. Department of Transportation's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) set a goal for its natural gas storage inspection program to inspect all approximately 400 natural gas storage sites within 5 years, according to agency officials. PHMSA expected that all 25 eligible states would help inspect sites, but only 10 states agreed to partner with the agency. As a result, the agency's inspection workload increased by almost 60 percent from when it set its goal, according to PHMSA data. Because of the increase in its inspection workload over its preliminary estimate, PHMSA does not have assurance that it has enough resources to meet its inspection goal. Furthermore, PHMSA has not used a workforce analysis to inform its budget requests. PHMSA officials said that the agency does not expect to have enough data until 2022 or 2023 to further inform analysis of its workforce. By analyzing factors affecting states' willingness to partner with PHMSA and its workforce needs on an ongoing basis, the agency would have better assurance that it has the staff it needs to meet its inspection goal. PHMSA Inspectors Conducting a Visual Inspection at a Natural Gas Storage Site Health effects have been reported related to chemicals that may be found in stored natural gas. Several federal agencies—including the Environmental Protection Agency and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry—have documented potential health effects of chemicals that may be found in stored natural gas. In addition, some chemicals may be added to natural gas, such as sulfur odorants that give natural gas a distinct smell in case of leaks. The combination of such chemicals varies from one natural gas storage site to another, based on the attributes of that site such as its geologic type and the extent to which sulfur odorants are added to the natural gas before storage. Many of these chemicals have been linked to adverse health effects. However, research is limited on the health effects of exposure to stored natural gas in general and on the effects in particular from exposure to chemicals that may occur in natural gas storage leaks or be present at the storage sites. Reports linking health effects are available on specific chemicals but not in the context of natural gas storage, based on GAO's literature review. About 400 natural gas storage sites are important to the U.S. natural gas system, providing about 30 percent of the nation's energy. During a 2015 leak at a storage site near Los Angeles, about 8,000 families were temporarily relocated due to symptoms such as migraines, nausea, and respiratory problems. The leak raised concerns about health and safety risks from other storage sites. In 2017, GAO recommended that PHMSA take actions, including using baseline data to develop performance goals for its natural gas storage program. GAO was asked to review the health and environmental effects of activities at natural gas storage sites. This report, among other objectives, (1) assesses the extent to which PHMSA has developed its natural gas storage inspection program and (2) describes what is known about the potential health effects from chemicals in stored natural gas. GAO reviewed available documents about natural gas storage incidents from 2000 through 2018; compared PHMSA research, goals, and plans against leading planning practices; visited sites representing the three types of storage sites; and interviewed agency officials. GAO is making two recommendations, including that PHMSA should analyze factors affecting states' willingness to partner with PHMSA and analyze its workforce needs on an ongoing basis. The agency concurred with the recommendations. For more information, contact Alfredo Gómez at (202) 512-3841 or GomezJ@gao.gov.

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GAO-19-543, Environmental Justice: Federal Efforts Need Better Planning, Coordination, and Methods to Assess Progress, September 16, 2019

Most of the 16 agencies that are members of the interagency working group on environmental justice—created by Executive Order 12898 in 1994—reported taking some actions to identify and address environmental justice issues, such as creating data tools, developing policies or guidance, and building community capacity through small grants and training. For example, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) created a mapping tool that can help identify low-income and minority communities exposed to health or environmental risks. Several agencies, such as EPA and the Departments of Justice, Homeland Security, and the Interior, also developed policies or guidance to analyze environmental justice issues during environmental reviews or enforcement activities. Most of the agencies supported their efforts with funds and staff from related programs, but EPA and the Department of Energy provided funds ($8.3 million in fiscal year 2018) and staff specifically for environmental justice. Agencies' progress toward environmental justice is difficult to gauge, however, because most do not have updated strategic plans and have not reported annually on their progress or developed methods to assess progress. As they agreed to do in a 2011 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), most of the agencies developed environmental justice strategic plans, but only six have updated them more recently. Few agencies have measures or methods for assessing progress, and the working group has not provided guidance to help agencies with such assessments. The number of agencies issuing annual progress reports has declined (see fig.). Updated strategic plans and annual progress reports, along with guidance on performance measures and methods, would help agencies provide essential information to assess their progress. The working group, chaired by EPA, has developed committees and written agreements to carry out its responsibilities to coordinate agencies' environmental justice efforts, but it is not carrying out several functions in the 1994 Executive Order. GAO has found that collaborative mechanisms, such as the working group, benefit from clear goals, but the working group's organizational documents do not contain clear strategic goals aligned to address the order. Clear strategic goals to carry out the executive order could enhance the group's strategic direction for intergovernmental environmental justice efforts. Environmental justice seeks to address the disproportionately high distribution of health and environmental risks among low-income and minority communities by seeking their fair treatment and meaningful involvement in environmental policy. In 1994, Executive Order 12898 directed 11 federal agencies to identify and address environmental justice issues related to their activities and tasked an interagency working group to coordinate federal environmental justice efforts. In 2011, 16 agencies, including the 11 original agencies, recommitted to planning and reporting on environmental justice efforts by signing an MOU. GAO was asked to review federal environmental justice efforts. This report examines agencies' environmental justice actions, strategic plans and progress reports, and working group collaboration. GAO reviewed agency environmental justice plans, reports, and funding data; interviewed agency officials; and compared working group collaboration to leading collaborative practices. GAO is making 24 recommendations, including that agencies update environmental justice strategic plans and report on progress annually, and that EPA consult with other working group members to provide guidance on assessing progress and to set strategic goals. Of the 15 agencies with recommendations, eight agreed. Other agencies' responses included partial agreement, disagreement, and no comment. GAO continues to support its recommendations. For more information, contact J. Alfredo Gómez at (202) 512-3841 or gomezj@gao.gov.

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GAO-20-148, Civilian Personnel: Additional Guidance and Consistent Data Reporting Could Help Improve the Marine Corps' Budget Management, October 16, 2019

The Marine Corps develops its civilian personnel budget request using prior fiscal year budget execution data with adjustments based on input from sources such as the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense (Comptroller) [OUSD(C)] and the Department of the Navy. As part of the Department of the Navy, the Marine Corps' budget request is added to the Navy's overall budget request, which is incorporated into the Department of Defense's (DOD) overall budget request. The Marine Corps manages its civilian personnel based on dollar amounts—not full-time equivalent (FTE) workload like the other military services—through an approach called Manage to Payroll. Specifically, while the Marine Corps requests a certain number of FTEs each year as required by policy, the Marine Corps distributes the funds it receives to its commands by dollar amount and not based on the FTEs requested. This approach has benefits, such as providing flexibility to employ civilians based on current mission requirements. However, under this approach, for fiscal year 2019, internal Marine Corps' data show that four of its commands are either exceeding or not reaching their requested dollar amounts. Marine Corps policy does not provide guidance to its commands to manage FTEs to requested amounts. Without such updated guidance the Marine Corps risks overspending or underspending on its personnel requirements. In addition, internal Marine Corps civilian FTE data for fiscal years 2013 through 2018 is not consistent with data that OUSD(C) used to formulate DOD's overall civilian personnel budget request, as shown in the figure below. Internal Marine Corps' Civilian Full-Time Equivalent (FTE) Data Compared with Department of Defense (DOD) Data Provided in Its Civilian Personnel Budget Request for the Marine Corps, Fiscal Years 2013 through 2018 Execution year Internal Marine Corps FTE data DOD FTE data provided in its budget request Difference between Marine Corps data and DOD budget request data Percent difference between Marine Corps data and DOD budget request data 2018 15,348 15,527 (179) 1.15% 2017 15,591 17,817 (2,226) 12.49% 2016 15,237 15,471 (234) 1.51% 2015 16,184 16,809 (625) 3.72% 2014 16,912 17,290 (378) 2.18% 2013 16,925 16,616 309 1.86% Source: GAO analysis of Marine Corps and DOD Budget Request data. I GAO-20-148 Note: Data is rounded to nearest whole FTE. Analysis uses Operations and Maintenance data and assumes Overseas Contingency Operations are not included in execution year data. The Marine Corps has not identified or reconciled differences between its internal data compared to data submitted in the annual budget request. If information in the Marine Corps' budget request does not reflect internal Marine Corps data, then Congress and DOD leadership may not have sufficient and appropriate information to make informed planning decisions. The Marine Corps requested $1.81 billion to pay for approximately 16,000 civilian employees in its fiscal year 2020 budget request. The Office of Management and Budget directs federal agencies to develop civilian personnel budgets by calculating workload requirements, the time needed to complete the work, and the number of FTEs needed. The Marine Corps uses a unique budget formulation process that relies on prior fiscal year budget data to calculate FTE estimates for future civilian personnel budget requests. Senate Report 115-290, accompanying a bill for the DOD Appropriations Act, 2019, included a provision for GAO to review how the Marine Corps develops its civilian labor requirements for both FTEs and funding and examine the benefits and shortfalls of the Manage to Payroll process. This report (1) describes how the Marine Corps formulates its civilian personnel budget request and (2) assesses the Marine Corps' management of its civilian personnel budget and FTEs, including the benefits and weaknesses of the process. GAO reviewed DOD civilian personnel budget policies, analyzed fiscal years 2013 through 2018 Marine Corps budget data that tracks spending and FTE allotment, and compared 2013 through 2018 budget execution data to budget request data. GAO recommends that the Marine Corps 1) updates its budget policies to include guidance for commands to manage civilian personnel to FTEs and 2) identifies and reconciles differences between its internal data and data OUSD(C) uses to formulate the Marine Corps' annual budget request. DOD concurred with both recommendations. For more information, contact at (202) 512-3604 or farrellb@gao.gov.

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