GAO

Financial Audit: Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation Funds' 2023 and 2022 Financial Statements

What GAO Found GAO found (1) the financial statements of the Deposit Insurance Fund (DIF) and of the Federal Savings and Loan Insurance Corporation (FSLIC) Resolution Fund (FRF) as of and for the years ended December 31, 2023, and 2022, are presented fairly, in all material respects, in accordance with U.S. generally accepted accounting principles; (2) the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) maintained, in all material respects, effective internal control over financial reporting relevant to the DIF and to the FRF as of December 31, 2023; and (3) with respect to the DIF and to the FRF, no reportable instances of noncompliance for 2023 with provisions of applicable laws, regulations, contracts, and grant agreements GAO tested. FDIC made progress during 2023 in addressing a significant deficiency that GAO reported in its prior year audits. Specifically, FDIC sufficiently addressed the deficiencies in contract documentation and payment review process controls such that GAO no longer considers the remaining control deficiencies in this area, individually or collectively, to represent a significant deficiency as of December 31, 2023. In commenting on a draft of this report, FDIC stated that it was pleased to receive unmodified opinions for the 32nd consecutive year on the DIF's and the FRF's financial statements, and noted that GAO reported that FDIC had effective internal control over financial reporting and that there was no reportable noncompliance with tested provisions of applicable laws, regulations, contracts, and grant agreements. FDIC also stated that it was pleased to report that it effectively remediated a significant deficiency in internal control over contract documentation and contract payment review processes. FDIC stated that while its controls have improved, FDIC reiterated its commitment to sound financial management and will continue to look for opportunities to improve. Why GAO Did This Study Section 17 of the Federal Deposit Insurance Act, as amended, requires GAO to audit the financial statements of the DIF and of the FRF annually. In addition, the Government Corporation Control Act requires that FDIC annually prepare and submit audited financial statements to Congress and authorizes GAO to audit the statements. This report responds to these requirements. For more information, contact M. Hannah Padilla at (202) 512-5683 or padillah@gao.gov.

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Small Business Administration: Targeted Outreach about Disaster Assistance Could Benefit Rural Communities

What GAO Found The Small Business Administration's (SBA) Disaster Loan Program is available to rural and urban communities to cover qualified losses after a declared disaster. Disaster loans are intended to help homeowners, renters, businesses, and nonprofits repair, rebuild, and recover from physical and economic losses. For fiscal years 2017–2022, applications for disaster loans from rural and urban areas were approved and declined at comparable rates. Across both types of areas, SBA approved about 40 percent and declined about 40 percent of applications that met minimum qualifications for acceptance. The remaining applications were withdrawn (18.5 percent) or were still being reviewed by SBA as of June 2023 (1.7 percent). Outcomes of SBA Disaster Loan Applications SBA Accepted by Geographic Area, Fiscal Years 2017–2022, as of June 2023 Note: This analysis includes applications that met SBA’s minimum acceptance qualifications and excludes 20,882 applications that were duplicates or could not be classified as rural or urban. GAO found that rural communities may have characteristics that can make recovering from a disaster difficult. For instance, they are more likely to have limited telecommunication services (broadband and cellular) because of geographic barriers, such as mountains, or limited demand due to smaller and sparser populations. A lack of reliable communications can hamper outreach to disaster survivors and can make it harder for survivors to apply for disaster assistance. Also, rural communities often do not have the capacity and resources to support recovery activities. Stakeholders also identified challenges to obtaining assistance from SBA. For example, stakeholders noted that rural communities may not be aware of SBA disaster assistance and may not know that SBA aids homeowners as well as businesses. SBA has introduced new outreach approaches in recent years, such as portable outreach centers that can be established after a disaster in hard-to-reach areas, including rural communities. However, SBA's outreach policies and procedures do not distinguish between rural and urban communities, and SBA does not tailor its outreach to address the specific needs of rural communities. Developing outreach plans with specific methods to address challenges rural communities face after disasters could help improve their access to SBA's Disaster Loan Program. Why GAO Did This Study GAO previously reported that the number and cost of weather and climate disasters, such as tornadoes and wildfires, are increasing in the United States. The Disaster Assistance for Rural Communities Act enabled the SBA Administrator to declare disasters in rural areas if certain conditions are met and included a provision for GAO to examine the unique challenges rural areas face when seeking disaster assistance from SBA. This report examines disaster loan trends in rural and urban areas for fiscal years 2017–2022, challenges rural communities may face after disasters, and SBA's actions that may address these challenges. GAO analyzed and geocoded SBA disaster loan application data for fiscal years 2017–2022 to show trends for approved, accepted, and declined loan applications for rural and urban areas. GAO also interviewed officials from SBA, four regional nonprofit organizations, and 18 state and local entities from three site visits. GAO further reviewed literature and key agency documents related to outreach, marketing, equity, and implementation of the new rural disaster declaration.

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Ridesharing and Taxi Safety: Information on Assaults against Drivers and Passengers

What GAO Found Ridesourcing (also referred to as ridesharing) and taxi services help meet the transportation needs of many people in the U.S. Taxi and Ridesourcing Transportation Services There is no federal requirement to collect data specifically on assaults against drivers and passengers of ridesourcing vehicles and taxis. Some federal and non-federal sources collect data on such assaults, but the available data cannot fully describe the extent of assaults in these industries. Several factors result in the data not being comparable or complete for this purpose. These factors include the varied intended uses of the collected data, the use of different definitions and codes, and underreporting of assaults. More specifically: Six federal databases contain some information on assaults in the ridesourcing and taxi industries. These databases contain more data about assaults against drivers than against passengers. Although limitations exist with these data, a few databases provide some data that can be used to report on assaults against drivers for 2019 and 2020. For example, a census of occupational fatalities reported 19 fatal injuries or illnesses of workers in the ridesourcing and taxi industries in 2019 related to assaults (i.e., intentional injuries by another person). Data for 2020 were not published because they did not meet publication criteria. Three ridesourcing companies whose representatives GAO interviewed collect data on assaults against their drivers and passengers, and they voluntarily issue reports with information on the extent of the most serious types of assault. The companies report data on fatal physical assaults and use the same definitions to categorize the five most serious types of sexual assault. The three ridesourcing companies reported that about 4,600 incidents of the five most serious types of sexual assault occurred related to trips arranged through their digital applications (app) in 2019, the only year for which all three companies publicly reported data. The five taxi companies whose representatives GAO spoke with collect complaint and incident data, which can include assault data. The five taxi companies' representatives said these data are largely for internal purposes and are not reported publicly. Representatives from the five companies said that they have experienced few or no assaults in 2019 and 2020. Why GAO Did This Study Ridesourcing and taxi companies offer similar transportation services to the public. Ridesourcing companies connect passengers and drivers by offering pre-arranged trips through an app. Taxi companies can conduct either pre-arranged or street-hail trips. Media outlets, advocacy organizations, and others have raised questions about the safety of drivers and passengers of ridesourcing vehicles and taxis. Sami's Law, enacted in January 2023, includes a provision for GAO to conduct a study including the incidence of physical and sexual assaults against ridesourcing and taxi drivers and passengers in calendar years 2019 and 2020. This report describes the extent to which data on such assaults are collected and available. To conduct this work, GAO reviewed federal database documents, such as data dictionaries, and interviewed officials from federal agencies including the Departments of Justice, Labor, and Health and Human Services. GAO also examined laws, regulations, and documents on ridesourcing and taxi oversight for five states and five localities, selected based on whether they collected data and to vary in location, among other factors. In addition, GAO reviewed documents and websites for selected ridesourcing companies and selected taxi companies. GAO also interviewed representatives from three ridesourcing and five taxi companies. GAO selected these companies to ensure variation in size (e.g., revenue, number of trips) and location. For more information, contact Elizabeth Repko at (202) 512-2834 or repkoe@gao.gov and Derrick Collins at (202) 512-8777 or collinsd@gao.gov.

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DHS Annual Assessment: Most Programs Are Meeting Current Goals, but Some Continue to Face Cost and Schedule Challenges

What GAO Found DHS invests billions of dollars annually to acquire systems that help secure the border, increase marine safety, screen travelers, enhance cybersecurity, and execute a wide variety of other operations. Cost and schedule status. Of the 26 DHS acquisition programs that GAO selected to review, 16 had department-approved acquisition program baselines—a summary of measurable goals indicating how the system will perform, when it will be delivered, and what it will cost. Fifteen of the 16 programs met their current cost and schedule goals, while one program was in breach status in fiscal year 2023. The Homeland Advanced Recognition Technology program breached its schedule due to continued technical challenges and contributing financial constraints associated with increment 1 development. Further, some programs experienced ongoing challenges, while two of DHS's costliest programs reported significant cost growth and delays. The Offshore Patrol Cutter continues to face significant cost and schedule challenges despite a program restructure in 2020. The program has incurred cost growth of $6 billion since 2012 and it faces delays of almost 1.5 years for delivery of the first four cutters. The Polar Security Cutter program increased its cost baseline by $3.5 billion and its lead ship delivery goal has been delayed by more than 2 years as the program faces continued challenges with achieving a stable design. Thirteen of the 16 programs we reviewed have rebaselined—established new cost, schedule, or performance goals—at least once since their initial baselines were established. Some have rebaselined due to scope changes like increasing quantity, while others have rebaselined due to insufficient understanding of requirements and complexity of the work to be accomplished. In addition, five programs requested schedule adjustments to address COVID-19 effects. Performance status. All seven of the 16 programs GAO reviewed that completed testing in 2023, met their current performance goals. These programs completed operational test and evaluation for at least one increment or segment in operationally realistic conditions, which determines whether a system can perform as required. The remaining nine programs have either not yet started operational test and evaluation or testing is ongoing. Why GAO Did This Study To help execute its many critical missions, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) plans to spend more than $4 billion on its portfolio of major acquisition programs—those with life-cycle costs generally over $300 million—in fiscal year 2024. DHS acquisition management was removed from GAO's High-Risk Series in 2023. The Explanatory Statement accompanying the DHS Appropriations Act, 2015, included a provision for GAO to review DHS's major acquisitions on an ongoing basis. This report, GAO's ninth review, assesses the extent to which selected DHS major acquisition programs are meeting their baseline cost, schedule, and performance goals. GAO selected and reviewed 26 of DHS's largest acquisition programs, including those that GAO identified as at risk of poor outcomes, to determine program status as of September 30, 2023. To conduct this work, GAO reviewed key acquisition documents; collected cost, schedule, and performance information; and interviewed DHS officials. For more information, contact Travis J. Masters at (202) 512-4841 or masterst@gao.gov.

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Commercial Space Transportation: FAA's Oversight of Human Spaceflight

What GAO Found The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) oversees commercial space operations with humans onboard under its broader licensing framework. FAA requires commercial launch operators to obtain a license before conducting any operation within U.S. borders—whether they carry humans or payloads, such as satellites. To obtain a license, operators must demonstrate that they can conduct the operation without jeopardizing the safety of the people and property not involved in the operation. FAA has additional licensing requirements for operations with humans onboard, such as crew training and the ability to suppress cabin fire. These requirements are intended to address risk to the uninvolved public. FAA is currently prohibited from issuing regulations directed at protecting the safety of humans onboard, with some exceptions, due to a moratorium that Congress established in 2004 to limit certain regulatory burdens on an emerging industry. This moratorium is set to expire on March 8, 2024. Number of U.S. Commercial Space Operations, 2018 – 2023 FAA is preparing for expanded oversight of human spaceflight—if the moratorium were to expire—by working with industry to develop future regulations and building FAA's workforce capacity. For example, FAA: chartered a rulemaking committee in April 2023 to solicit industry's input on a future regulatory framework aimed at protecting the safety of humans onboard, and is leveraging the expertise of current staff and recruiting new staff to support human spaceflight safety efforts. However, FAA has ongoing hiring challenges and workforce constraints, which have affected these efforts. For example, FAA reported it did not receive an adequate candidate pool for four of the 10 human spaceflight-related positions for which it has been actively recruiting. To help address this challenge, officials said in February 2024 that they are devising a new recruitment strategy for these positions. Why GAO Did This Study The number of commercial launch and reentry operations carrying humans is a small proportion of the overall number of commercial space operations—about 10 percent in 2023—but it is growing. This growth has been driven both by space tourism and by government missions conducted by commercial launch and reentry operators. This includes transporting National Aeronautics and Space Administration astronauts to and from the International Space Station. FAA forecasts that the number of commercial operations with humans onboard will continue to increase over the next several years. GAO was asked to review issues related to FAA's oversight of commercial launch and reentry operations with humans. This report describes how FAA (1) oversees the safety of commercial operations with humans onboard, and (2) is preparing for expanded oversight of human spaceflight, which may include regulations directed at protecting the health and safety of humans onboard. GAO reviewed relevant statutes, regulations, and FAA and industry documentation. GAO interviewed FAA officials and conducted semi-structured interviews with all seven launch operators that, as of December 2022 (during GAO's review), had conducted or planned to conduct operations with humans before 2026. For more information, contact Heather Krause at (202) 512-2834 or KrauseH@gao.gov.

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Maternal Health: HHS Should Improve Assessment of Efforts to Address Worsening Outcomes

What GAO Found Maternal mortality and other adverse outcomes associated with pregnancy or childbirth worsened significantly in 2020 and 2021, as compared with 2018 and 2019, according to Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) data. Disparities in maternal health outcomes persisted during the pandemic for certain groups. For example, the maternal mortality rate among non-Hispanic, Black or African American women was about 2.5 times greater than non-Hispanic, White women during these years, according to GAO's analysis of HHS data. Maternal Mortality by Race and Ethnicity, 2018 – 2022 Notes: A maternal death is the death of a woman that occurs during or within 42 days of pregnancy from any cause related to or aggravated by the pregnancy or its management. All racial groups are not Hispanic or Latina; Hispanic or Latina women may be of any race. The White House Blueprint for Addressing the Maternal Health Crisis was released in June 2022 in response to worsening outcomes and disparities. It highlights specific federal actions and outlines long-term goals for improving maternal health. HHS offices intend to develop a strategy for assessing the performance of these long-term goals. However, as of September 2023, HHS had not indicated whether the strategy will include key practices, such as establishing near-term goals and performance measures, to track the performance of their efforts . Doing so would allow HHS to better assess its efforts to improve maternal health. The blueprint also identifies key maternal health efforts, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) Perinatal Quality Collaborative program, which supports multidisciplinary teams implementing maternal health quality improvement initiatives. The CDC program has both long- and near-term goals, but the near-term goals lack quantitative targets, such as targets specifying the anticipated number of facilities participating in the Perinatal Quality Collaborative program. Establishing such targets would allow CDC to assess the program's progress to help improve maternal health outcomes. Why GAO Did This Study The U.S. is experiencing a maternal health crisis: it has one of the highest maternal mortality rates among high-income nations; increasing rates of complications from pregnancy or childbirth; and persistent disparities in such outcomes, according to HHS. GAO previously reported that the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated maternal health outcomes and highlighted racial disparities. The CARES Act includes a provision for GAO to report on its COVID-19 pandemic oversight efforts. GAO was also asked to review maternal health during the pandemic. Among other things, this report describes what available HHS data show about maternal health during COVID-19, and examines the extent to which HHS agencies have incorporated key practices to assess the performance of selected HHS maternal health efforts. GAO selected efforts based on factors such as the number of states in which teams implement the efforts. GAO reviewed HHS data for various years from 2016 through 2022 (based on availability), reviewed agency documentation, compared efforts against key practices, and interviewed HHS officials and stakeholders.

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401(k) Plans: Additional Federal Actions Would Help Participants Track and Consolidate Their Retirement Savings

What GAO Found The CARES Act temporarily expanded access to 401(k) retirement savings for plan participants who were impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. GAO surveyed 14 selected companies that manage participant account data and transactions for 401(k) plans. GAO found that less than one-third of the plans covered by the surveyed companies offered the CARES Act options. Industry stakeholders GAO interviewed said larger plans and plans in industries subject to furloughs at the beginning of the pandemic, such as airlines and hospitality, were more likely to offer the CARES Act options to participants. The CARES Act options generally allowed participants to access their 401(k) plan savings in two ways in 2020: Participants younger than 59½ could withdraw up to $100,000 from their plan savings without facing an additional 10 percent tax for early withdrawals; they could also choose to repay the amount within 3 years. Between March 27 and September 22, participants could borrow up to $100,000 from their savings as a loan and delay some payments a year. The 401(k) plans covered by the 14 companies GAO surveyed represented about 64 percent of all active 401(k) participants. Of those represented participants, GAO found that about 80 percent of them had access to the CARES Act options through their plan. Of these participants with access, 6 percent took a Coronavirus-Related Distribution and less than 1 percent took a CARES Act loan. Based on GAO's survey, the amounts of withdrawals and loans were higher during the pandemic in 2020 as compared with 2019 (see table). Industry stakeholders pointed out that workers with the greatest need for emergency funds during the pandemic in 2020—such as lower and middle-income workers—likely did not have a 401(k) plan and, thus, could not take advantage of the CARES Act options. Comparison of Average and Median Hardship Withdrawals and Plan Loans in 2019 with CARES Act Options in 2020   2019 Hardship Withdrawals 2020 Coronavirus-Related Distributions 2019 Plan Loans 2020 CARES Act Loans Average Amount $6,913 $18,344 $9,564 $33,793 Median Amount $3,144 $9,000 $5,097 $11,998 Source: GAO survey of 14 selected 401(k) plan record keepers. | GAO-24-103577 GAO also examined how six selected countries—Australia, Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden—help retirement plan participants manage their savings. GAO found that all six countries use pension dashboards and other approaches to help plan participants track, manage, and consolidate their plan savings and reduce fees. For example, all six countries established a centralized pension dashboard that allows participants to view their retirement savings securely online and at no charge. According to experts from the countries, the dashboards help participants keep track of their various workplace retirement accounts as they change jobs. Pension Dashboards Allow Participants to Track Their Plan Savings in One Place To increase the likelihood that participants' savings will be consolidated after a job change, three of the six selected countries allow automatic savings transfers, according to experts GAO interviewed. For example, Australia, Norway, and the Netherlands allow a participant's inactive retirement plan savings from older workplace plans, to be transferred to the participant's current, active plan without the participant's consent. In Australia, plan providers must transfer savings from small inactive accounts to a government agency. The agency then holds the savings until the participant claims them, the agency transfers them to an active account, or the participant is eligible to receive the savings. Australian officials said close to 4.7 million accounts valued at $7.11 billion AUD (about $4.61 billion USD) have been reunited with participants between late 2019 and the end of 2022, helping them consolidate savings into their active accounts. In the U.S., 401(k) participants face challenges tracking and consolidating their accounts. However, federal action could mitigate these challenges. Federal data show that more than 92 million Americans participate in and have saved more than $7 trillion in 401(k) plans. Yet, GAO's nationally-representative survey of 401(k) participants found that participants continue to encounter challenges in managing and tracking their accounts as they move from one job to another. According to GAO's survey, two-thirds of 401(k) participants would find a comprehensive pension dashboard, where they can see all of their current and old plan savings in one place, to be a useful resource. However, no federal agency has statutory authority to establish a pension dashboard. GAO's survey also found that 401(k) participants who recently completed a plan-to-plan rollover faced challenges understanding and complying with their plans' requirements. For example, 25 percent of participants indicated that there were too many steps to follow in the process and 22 percent said they were unclear about questions or information in the rollover form. Allowing plans to automatically roll over participants' savings to their new plan after they change jobs can be beneficial for participants—particularly those unengaged with their plan—because they can benefit from account consolidation without navigating a challenging manual process. However, no federal agency has the statutory authority to establish a system to facilitate automatic plan-to-plan rollovers. Why GAO Did This Study Investing in employer-sponsored 401(k) plans has become the most common way for American workers to save for retirement. But plan participants can face challenges when they change jobs and with tracking their accounts. 401(k) savings can sometimes be accessed in emergencies. The CARES Act created additional options for participants to temporarily access their plan savings. GAO was asked to review access to 401(k) plan savings during the pandemic in 2020 and challenges participants have rolling over their retirement savings from one plan to another, both abroad and in the U.S. This report examines: (1) access to and use of the CARES Act 401(k) plan options; (2) approaches other countries use to help workers track, manage, and consolidate their plan savings; and (3) challenges with 401(k) plan-to-plan rollovers and federal actions that can improve the process. GAO's review included a non-representative survey of 401(k) companies and interviews with stakeholders representing different roles in the retirement industry about the CARES Act access options; interviews with experts from six selected countries that have: (1) a pension dashboard, (2) portable workplace retirement savings, and (3) other approaches to help workers track and consolidate their retirement savings; and a nationally-representative survey of 401(k) participants about their recent experience with plan-to-plan rollovers.

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Oil and Gas Pipelines: Agencies Should Improve Oversight of Decommissioning

What GAO Found Gathering pipelines carry natural gas, crude oil, and other hazardous liquids from production wells to processing facilities, refineries, and transmission pipelines. Pipeline operators should decommission gathering lines after oil and gas production has ended to ensure any remaining gathering lines are safe and to restore the land to its natural state. If operators do not decommission gathering lines properly or in a timely manner, they could pose various safety and environmental risks, including spills, emissions, and explosions. For example, in 2017, homeowners accidentally struck an improperly decommissioned gathering line on their property, causing an explosion that killed two people and injured two others. Examples of Gathering Lines and Associated Infrastructure Agency efforts to ensure proper decommissioning may be hindered by insufficient bonding, data limitations, and ambiguous requirements. For example, the Bureau of Land Management has detailed data for the more than 95,000 wells on federal leases, but its databases do not include any data for the gathering lines associated with those wells. While agencies have taken steps to improve the data they have on gathering lines, those steps have been ad hoc. None of the agencies has a documented plan to ensure they are collecting and maintaining the data needed to oversee decommissioning activities. Developing a plan with a timeline for implementing data improvement efforts would provide management the assurance that officials are collecting and maintaining the data needed to oversee decommissioning. Specifically, a documented plan would identify what data are needed, potential sources for the data, timelines to collect or acquire the data, and how best to maintain the data over time, ensuring that they remain current and accessible. The federal government has previously stepped in to decommission orphaned gathering lines—lines without an identifiable responsible party. However, agencies have limited resources. While the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act provided additional funding, agencies told us that the act's funding will not be sufficient to decommission all orphaned infrastructure. For example, Forest Service officials said that even if all of the $250 million in the act were provided solely to Forest Service, those funds would allow for decommissioning of only 5 percent to 10 percent of the known and expected orphaned infrastructure on Forest Service lands. Agencies need to analyze the risks associated with gathering lines they oversee. For the four agencies, we found that only the National Park Service has assessed the potential risks of gathering lines it oversees. Assessing risks would allow agencies to adequately prioritize those gathering lines that pose the greatest safety, environmental, or fiscal risks for either oversight attention if lines are active, or decommissioning if lines are orphaned. Why GAO Did This Study Oil and gas pipeline operators have installed at least 384,000 miles of onshore gathering lines across the United States. We were asked to review issues related to decommissioning oil and gas gathering lines on federal lands. This report examines the risks associated with gathering lines that are not decommissioned properly or in a timely manner and how agencies oversee decommissioning of gathering lines on federal lands. We reviewed relevant laws, regulations, policies, and guidance related to overseeing decommissioning pipelines. We also conducted a literature search to assess risks associated with improper decommissioning. We interviewed agency headquarters and field office officials, as well as state agency officials, representatives from the oil and gas industry, environmental advocacy groups, and pipeline safety organizations.

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Coast Guard: Enhanced Safety Oversight Needed for Fish Tender Vessels

What GAO Found Under U.S. law, certain fish tender vessels are subject to load line and stability requirements to ensure their safety in different waters, including by reducing their likelihood of capsizing. A fish tender vessel supplies and transports fish from a catcher vessel to a processing facility. A load line ensures a vessel's overall seaworthiness and includes maintaining certain structural features such as watertight closures. Example of Load Line Markings on a Fish Tender Vessel The Coast Guard's data system captures information on the activities of commercial fishing industry vessels but does not capture data on vessels engaging in multiple service types, such as both catching and tendering fish. As a result, the Coast Guard is unable to generate a reliable list of fish tender vessels to identify which vessels are subject to load line requirements and the extent they have been in accidents. By assessing the feasibility of updating its system to capture multiple service types, the Coast Guard will be better positioned to oversee fish tender vessels. In 2015, the Coast Guard recognized that some vessels that were operating as part-time fish tender vessels were not in compliance with load line requirements. In August 2019, the Coast Guard created a task force that proposed an alternative compliance program that would exempt certain fish tender vessels from load line requirements while still providing an appropriate level of oversight. The task force paused its work after May 2022 without (1) fully assessing the safety risks posed to vessels participating in such a program, and (2) clearly identifying the proposed program's legal basis. Should the Coast Guard pursue implementation of a program, fully assessing the safety risks posed to fish tender vessels without a load line can help it ensure that any proposed alternative compliance program maximizes vessel safety within existing resource limitations. By clearly identifying a legal basis for the program, the Coast Guard can better ensure that any proposed program is consistent with its legal authorities. Why GAO Did This Study Commercial fishing is an important part of the economy, yet one of the most hazardous occupations in the U.S. The U.S. Coast Guard is the primary federal agency responsible for marine safety, which includes enforcing safety requirements for fish tender vessels. The James M. Inhofe National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2023 includes a provision for GAO to review issues related to load line requirements for fish tender vessels. This report addresses: (1) the load line and stability requirements for fish tender vessels; and the extent the Coast Guard (2) collected data on the activities of commercial fishing industry vessels in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest as they pertain to tendering and what its data show, and (3) addressed fish tender vessel noncompliance with load line requirements. GAO assessed relevant statutes, regulations, and Coast Guard documentation and data; and interviewed officials from the Coast Guard and commercial fishing industry (such as seafood companies and industry associations).

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Offshore Oil and Gas: Interior Needs to Improve Decommissioning Enforcement and Mitigate Related Risks

What GAO Found The Department of the Interior's Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) does not effectively ensure that industry operators meet decommissioning deadlines for offshore wells and platforms at the end of their useful lives. BSEE's administrative enforcement tools and its use of them are ineffective at incentivizing noncompliant operators—for example, citations for regulatory violations and orders to comply are essentially warnings. BSEE rarely takes more punitive actions such as issuing civil penalty fines, which can take years, or disqualifying operators, which has unclear trigger criteria. Long-standing uncertainties in the enforceability of some deadlines also undermine BSEE's effectiveness for idle infrastructure on active leases and end-of-lease infrastructure in the Pacific. These enforcement issues have contributed to widespread decommissioning delays that have grown into a substantial backlog. For example, for Gulf leases that ended in 2010 through 2022, operators missed BSEE's 1-year decommissioning deadline for more than 40 percent of wells and 50 percent of platforms—many of which still have not been decommissioned. Over 75 percent of end-of-lease and idle infrastructure in the Gulf was overdue under BSEE's deadlines as of June 2023—over 2,700 wells and 500 platforms. End-of-Lease and Idle Offshore Wells and Platforms Overdue for Decommissioning in the Gulf of Mexico Moreover, Interior's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) does not effectively assure that operators have the financial and technical capacity to meet decommissioning obligations in advance of potential delays, bankruptcies, or other defaults. Specifically, BOEM held about $3.5 billion in supplemental bonds to cover between $40 billion and $70 billion in total estimated decommissioning costs as of June 2023. As a result, the federal government remains exposed to billions of dollars in financial risks from decommissioning liabilities if operators do not meet their obligations. BOEM has been working for over a decade on proposals to better address these risks but has not finalized changes in its approach. Additionally, BOEM has limited operator qualification standards that do not address decommissioning capacity or consider any past issues with meeting these obligations safely and timely. Interior could better enforce decommissioning deadlines and mitigate the safety, environmental, and financial risks that unmet decommissioning obligations pose by ensuring BSEE and BOEM prioritize completing planned actions. Additionally, given the extended duration and magnitude of these issues and insufficient progress in Interior's efforts to address them, congressional oversight or direction may be warranted to better limit the growing scale of related risks. Why GAO Did This Study Since the 1940s, the offshore oil and gas industry has installed more than 55,000 wells and 7,000 platforms on the outer continental shelf, mostly in the Gulf of Mexico. Interior is responsible for enforcing requirements for industry operators to safely decommission this infrastructure at the end of its useful life within deadlines set by regulations. Delayed decommissioning increases environmental, safety, and financial risks. Over time, infrastructure becomes increasingly vulnerable to damage and deterioration from storms and corrosion, which can topple platforms, cause oil spills, and make decommissioning more expensive and dangerous. The federal government may become liable for these costs if industry defaults on its obligations. GAO was asked to review Interior's oversight of offshore decommissioning. This report examines Interior's effectiveness in (1) enforcing decommissioning deadlines and (2) assuring industry capacity to meet them. GAO reviewed decommissioning regulations, procedures, guidance, and data; interviewed agency officials; and obtained perspectives from industry and environmental groups.

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