While regulatory agencies spend a good bit of time developing new rules and requirements, the majority of their budget resources and employees are focused on enforcing current regulations. That is certainly true with the oil and gas industry, so any focus on those efforts by Congress is worth examining.
On March 11, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a study reviewing the oversight and enforcement practices of the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE). BSEE is the government agency with responsibility for regulation and oversight of offshore drilling operations.
GAO is the independent audit and evaluation arm of Congress, and it conducts hundreds of studies and audits each year on government programs and spending. This specific study was requested by the leading Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee.
A key finding from the study is that many of the changes in enforcement procedures that were outlined by BSEE and the Department of the Interior post-Deepwater Horizon have not been implemented by the agency. These include:
- Updated investigative policies and procedures, including for use of its enforcement tools;
- Capability to analyze incident data and use of electronic case management;
- Consistent guidance to field staff; and
- Modernized water quality monitoring agreements with EPA.
The GAO does not have the authority to force agencies to take action, but instead issues recommendations. The recommendations to BSEE from this study include:
- Complete policies outlining responsibilities and procedures for investigations, compliance, and enforcement;
- Establish a capability to collect and analyze incidents to identify trends in safety and environmental hazards; and
- Coordinate with the EPA for monitoring compliance with water quality permits.
Agencies are able to provide response to the report, and BSEE neither agreed nor disagreed with the recommendations outlined by GAO. Congress frequently uses GAO reports to guide the development of legislation or specific requirements for government agencies.
You can read the full GAO report, review a highlights document, or listen to a podcast on the study online at http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-16-245.