The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Office of Inspector General (OIG) will commence an audit this month of PHMSA’s pipeline and hazardous materials safety programs to assess the Agency’s performance, with particular emphasis on its progress and process for implementing congressional mandates and recommendations from NTSB, GAO, and OIG, dating back to 2005. OIG explained the need and objectives of the audit in a Memorandum to PHMSA Acting Administrator Tim Butters on May 5, 2015, citing concerns raised by Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Ranking Member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, about the length of time PHMSA has taken to establish new regulations for tank cars carrying crude oil and to implement mandates from the 2011 Pipeline Safety Act (PSA) reauthorization amendments.
In his February 2015 letter to DOT requesting a full PHMSA audit, Rep. DeFazio pointed out that “in multiple pipeline accident investigations over the last 15 years, the NTSB has identified the same persistent issues, most of which PHMSA has failed to address on its own accord. Each and every time, Congress has been forced to require PHMSA to take action, most recently in the [2011 PSA]. Three years later, almost none of the important safety measures in the Act have been finalized.” PHMSA’s Final Rule setting new tank car standards and various other requirements for railroad transportation of crude oil and ethanol was announced just days before the Memorandum, but numerous mandates from the 2011 PSA (as well as NTSB, GAO, and OIG recommendations on pipeline safety) remain outstanding. The slow pace of Agency action on these items was the topic of heated questioning during congressional hearings on PSA reauthorization that took place last month.
OIG’s Office of Auditing and Evaluation routinely conducts independent audits and other reviews of DOT programs, and has previously conducted audits of PHMSA’s special permit, hazardous liquid integrity management, and state pipeline safety programs. This audit announcement comes at the same time as the passing of the deadline mandated by the Federal Vacancies Reform Act for appointing a replacement for Administrator Cynthia Quarterman, who stepped down last October.