GAO report calls on DOI to evaluate post-Macondo staff upgrade steps

The US Department of the Interior moved aggressively to upgrade its oil and gas oversight following the 2010 Macondo deepwater well blowout and crude oil spill by trying to hire, train, and retain more qualified inspectors and managers, the US Government Accountability Office noted.

But the department still has not evaluated whether its efforts have been effective and has missed opportunities for agencies to cooperate and work together, the congressional watchdog service said in a report it released Oct. 31.

The report recommended that Interior:

• Determine whether special salary rates and incentives at the US Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, and Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement have been effective.

• Evaluate the three bureaus’ training programs.

• Develop technical competencies for all key oil and gas staff members.

• Evaluate the need for a BSEE inspector certification program.

• Better facilitate collaboration across the bureaus.

GAO’s report said Interior specifically tried to address two underlying factors—lower salaries and a longer hiring process compared to the oil and gas industry—that limited its ability to hire and retain qualified employees.

In fiscal 2012, the department began using special salary rates to pay more to certain key employees in the three bureaus that oversee federal oil and gas resources, the report noted. “To bolster compensation further, some bureaus increased the number of staff receiving student loan repayments and other incentives,” it said.

Officials told investigators that such efforts filled positions in fiscal 2015, but it had not been determined whether they were effective. “As a result, Interior cannot determine how or whether it should alter its approach,” the report said. The three bureaus recently adopted new human resources software that may generate better data with which to evaluate their hiring processes, it added.

“As the bureaus sought to improve hiring and retention, [DOI’s] Office of Policy, Management, and Budget—which is charged with managing human resources and addressing cross-cutting issues—missed opportunities to facilitate collaboration across the bureaus,” the report said.

“For example, two bureaus used separate recruitment teams that did not collaborate. Senior officials in the office did not identify any collaboration mechanism that they used to bring the bureaus together to discuss shared challenges. Without such a mechanism, the bureaus may continue to address these challenges through fragmented and potentially duplicative efforts,” it warned.

GAO’s report said that DOI has trained key oil and gas staff members without fully evaluating the bureaus’ staff training needs or the training’s effectiveness, according to officials, and Interior has provided limited leadership in facilitating the bureaus’ sharing of training resources.

Evaluations weren’t performed

It said the 2004 Federal Workforce Flexibility Act and US Office of Personnel Management regulations require federal agencies to evaluate their training efforts, but Interior’s Office of Policy, Management, and Budget has not performed these evaluations.

“In addition, none of the bureaus have evaluated training, according to officials, and only one developed technical competencies for staff as directed in DOI’s departmental manual,” the report said. “Further, BSEE’s training for inspectors does not include proficiency examinations or certifications, according to officials, although two oversight bodies recommended implementing a certification program in 2010.”

GAO said its investigators found that the department has provided limited leadership in facilitating the sharing of training resources across the bureaus, appearing to miss opportunities that could improve the use of these resources.

For example, BOEM did not have employees to develop curricula or evaluate training efforts and, as of July 2016, BSEE had 6 full-time staff members in its training program, according to officials. These bureaus conduct limited evaluations, the report said.

“In contrast, BLM had 59 staff in its training program and has the capacity to evaluate their training efforts, according to officials,” it said. “Without further evaluation and leadership, Interior may not be able to ensure key oil and gas staff are adequately trained for their oversight tasks, and the bureaus may miss opportunities to share resources.”

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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