GAO Calls for CSB Management, Oversight Improvement

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) released the results of a performance audit of the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB), concluding that CSB needs to make improvements in its management and oversight, among other recommendations.

GAO interviewed CSB and reviewed relevant documentation and data from October 2007 through May 2008. This performance review follows GAO’s 2000 report, “Chemical Safety Board: Improved Policies and Additional Oversight Are Needed,” which recommended that CSB seek the services of an existing Office of Inspector General (IG).

According to this GAO report, “…CSB has not fully responded to key recommendations related to investigating more accidents that meet statutory requirements triggering CSB’s responsibility to investigate, improving the quality of its accident data, resolving human capital problems, and ensuring accountability and continuity of management.”

The GAO report claimed CSB has not fully addressed the gap between the number of accidents it investigates and the accidents that meet statutory criteria triggering CSB’s responsibility to investigate.

“By not investigating all accidental releases that have a fatality, serious injury, substantial property damage, or the potential for a fatality, serious injury, or substantial property damage, CSB continues to fall short of its statutory mandate,” the report read.

GAO’s recommendations for CSB include:

  • Develop a plan to address the investigative gap and request necessary resources from Congress to meet CSB’s statutory mandate or seek an amendment to the mandate;
  • Consider using government agencies, companies, contractors or other entities to a greater extent to maximize CSB’s limited resources;
  • Improve its accident-screening database by better controlling data entry and periodically sampling accident data to evaluate consistency and completeness;
  • Publish a regulation requiring facilities to report all chemical accidents, as required by law, to better inform CSB about accident details it may not receive from current sources;
  • Consider reinstating the position of chief operating officer; and
  • Use the Strategic Management of Human Capital portion of the President’s Management Agenda to provide criteria for developing a comprehensive human capital plan.

“In our view, independent oversight from an existing IG remains the most effective way to help CSB address its continuing problems, provided that the arrangement is made permanent and funding is provided to the IG for the function,” the report read.

CSB Responds

In response to GAO’s recommendation to address to investigative gap, CSB Chairman and CEO John Bresland emphasized that while the GAO report implies that CSB was not entirely responsive to previous IG recommendations, all of those IG recommendations have in fact “been closed by the respective IGs who made them.”

Overall, CSB agreed with several of the recommendations, including considering instating the position of chief operating officer, taking additional steps to prevent errors from incorrect data entry and using the Strategic Management of Human Capital to develop a comprehensive human capital plan.

While CSB also agreed that its mission could be strengthened by investigating and reporting on more serious chemical accidents every year, the response pointed out that “CSB has not construed the agency’s authorizing statute as requiring investigation of every chemical accident involving a fatality, serious injury, or substantial property damage…”

And in an e-mail to OccupationalHazards.com, CSB Public Affairs Specialist Hillary J. Cohen pointed out that in fiscal year 2007, CSB initiated investigations of six major accidents that included loss of life and/or serious damage. Cohen added CSB also completed an additional seven investigation reports, including the agency’s landmark March 2007 BP investigation.

In the agency’s response to GAO, Bresland wrote that CSB will seek additional resources and will draft a plan for obtaining information on additional chemical accidents and set forth a risk-based approach to accident selection and investigation.

CSB disagreed with GAO’s specific suggestions for Congressional consideration concerning oversight, including the recommendation that the EPA IG is the best option for permanent oversight. Other Offices of the Inspector General “may be more appropriate for the role,” among other possible alternatives, the response read.

“The CSB is concerned that GAO did not adequately consider different oversight options for the CSB,” Bresland wrote.

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