When children receive a bad report card they must face their parents. The same is true for government agencies, only they appear before Congress. Last week, the Governmental Accountability Office (GAO) listed the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) on their 2017 High Risk List (an evaluation at the start of every new Congress calling attention to programs most in need of transformation).
This isn’t the first time GAO has given the program a low rating, and as a result, the Interior, Energy and Environment Subcommittee of House Oversight and Government Reform Committee held a hearing to further discuss the report’s findings. In response to the Deepwater Horizon disaster, BSEE was formed in 2011 to oversee environmental compliance in offshore drilling activities, which includes investigating incidents on the outer continental shelf and enforcing environmental regulations. The Department of Interior (DOI), which houses the office, reported collecting $49 billion from royalties and other payments between Fiscal Years 2011 and 2015, representing one the country’s largest non-tax revenues. However, GAO reports BSEE has made “limited progress” in addressing longstanding problems with its inspection and environmental stewardship programs, and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle expressed concern with these findings.
The report states BSEE’s “outdated” investigative policies are “potentially undermining” the effectiveness of their inspections and that they continue to have problems hiring, training, and retaining sufficient staff. Commenting on the staffing deficiencies, Ranking Member Stacey Plaskett (VI-At Large) stressed that “lives are at risk” and hoped promises by President Trump to remove restrictions to the program should not include those impacting worker safety. Mr. Frank Rusco (Director, Natural Resources and Environment-Energy Issues, GAO) detailed nine specific recommendations listed in the report that the Secretary of Interior should act upon, including to update and develop policies outlining responsibilities of its investigative, environmental compliance, and enforcement programs. In response, Mr. Richard Cardinale (Acting Assistant Secretary for Lands and Minerals Management, DOI) pointed to GAO findings showing it can often take at least five to seven years for major change management initiatives to be fully implemented and transformed (BSEE has only been in existence for six years). Ranking Member Plaskett argued the increasing importance of reforming BSEE, given the recent announcement by the DOI that it will offer 73 million acres of new oil and gas development this year, adding “We need to fix these problems before even more lives are on the line.”