Improved Oversight and Guidance Needed To Achieve Regulatory Reform at DOE

EMD-82-6: Published: Nov 6, 1981. Publicly Released: Nov 6, 1981.

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GAO evaluated the effectiveness of Department of Energy (DOE) procedures for developing regulations. GAO reviewed the development of three regulations which meet the significant regulation criteria and are fully and clearly representative of the DOE regulatory process. GAO was concerned with the adequacy of the DOE process for developing regulations rather than the adequacy of individual regulations.

DOE has not fully achieved the goals of an Executive order which directed Federal agencies to establish procedures to improve existing regulations and those being developed. From October 1977 to January 1981, DOE used two different approaches to regulatory reform. However, both efforts were largely ineffective because DOE lacked: (1) a focal point for strong departmental oversight of the regulatory reform effort; (2) clear policy and program guidance, and delegation of organizational responsibilities for those involved in developing regulations; and (3) effective application of the policy by the program managers in the execution of their responsibilities. The information made available to the various levels of decisionmakers was not complete and did not allow for a full perspective of the need, merits, and costs of the proposed regulations nor allow for effective execution of oversight. Moreover, DOE recordkeeping practices need improvement to assure that the information which is developed is properly documented and readily available to decisionmakers. GAO believes that the data deficiencies resulted primarily from the need for more specific guidance in preparing effective regulatory analyses. Oversight by top management was not effective because of the lack of understanding of and indifference to what was happening at the program manager level because DOE was not fully committed to regulatory reform. Procedures for oversight of the public participation process need improvement as well.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOE argues that the Secretary of Energy is not the decisionmaker and that the recommendation would be too cumbersome to implement. While GAO still disagrees on this matter, it is not worth pursuing in view of the greatly reduced number of DOE rulemakings.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Energy should provide guidance and direction to program managers by issuing a DOE order which will make sure that necessary documentation is maintained for the Secretary's review.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The drastic reduction in rulemakings at DOE makes it unproductive to combat DOE on this point.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Energy should provide guidance and direction to program managers by issuing a DOE order which will ensure enhanced public participation by defining when to use notices of inquiry and advance notices of proposed rulemakings; for example, when subject material is new or controversial or when DOE lacks complete information on the subject.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  3. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOE is now complying with OMB requirements that all regulatory impact analyses be submitted to OMB for oversight and review. While GAO would prefer that more information be required for such analyses, DOE feels strongly that OMB oversight, not required at the time of the review, ensures that adequate regulatory analyses will be made. GAO believes that further effort is not worthwhile.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Energy should provide guidance and direction to program managers by issuing a DOE order which will specify what information must be included in the regulatory analyses, including: (1) estimates, or ranges of estimates, of the costs and benefits of each alternative; (2) a brief discussion of how the estimates were computed; (3) the underlying assumption on which the estimates were based; (4) the reason why estimates or a particular estimate could not be determined; and (5) a discussion of how effectively the alternatives can be enforced, as well as their potential impact on the enforceability of existing regulations.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  4. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Although DOE disagreed with the recommendation, it took some actions consistent with the general intent of the recommendation. Because of the greatly reduced number of the DOE rulemakings and position that an action memorandum is not necessary to fulfill the objectives of the recommendation, GAO believes that further effort is unwarranted.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Energy should provide guidance and direction to program managers by issuing a DOE order which will require an action memorandum which would include a discussion of: (1) the problem to be addressed, the legislative authority for the regulation, the substantive issues raised by the proposed regulation, the regulation's enforceability, and its impact on other regulations; (2) those groups most likely to be affected and in what manner with a plan for obtaining comment from these groups; (3) whether a regulatory analysis will be needed; and (4) the extent to which cost/benefit information is readily available.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Energy should ensure proper organizational responsibility by designating the office which is responsible for maintaining the regulatory decision file.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  6. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOE is adamant in its belief that the public interest and industry groups will make their opinions known on all critical rulemakings when they are published in the Federal Register. DOE also points out the greatly reduced number of rulemakings now being issued. Under these circumstances, GAO can see no reason to pursue this matter further.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Energy should ensure proper organizational responsibility by designating the group within the department responsible for assuring that public participation activities are properly carried out, including providing comment on plans for obtaining public comment contained in action memoranda.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  7. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Energy should ensure proper organizational responsibility by designating one individual within the Office of the Secretary responsible for oversight of regulatory reform, including monitoring the quality of regulatory analyses.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  8. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: While DOE agreed with the recommendations in principle, it failed to recognize the full intent of this recommendation. In light of the large reduction in DOE rulemakings, GAO would be hard pressed to show that this recommendation is cost-effective.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Energy should provide guidance and direction to program managers by issuing a DOE order which will require the Office of the General Counsel to summarize all the public comments as soon after the close of the comment period as reasonable and disseminate them to those involved in the regulatory process.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

 

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