Pipeline Safety and Security:

Improved Workforce Planning and Communication Needed

GAO-02-785: Published: Aug 26, 2002. Publicly Released: Sep 26, 2002.

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The Office of Pipeline Safety (OPS) is implementing a new approach to overseeing the safety of a 2.2-million-mile network of pipelines in the United States that transports potentially dangerous materials, including hazardous liquids, such as oil and natural gas. OPS has to complete several important steps to implement its integrity management approach within an ambitious, self-imposed schedule. The agency began applying this new regulatory approach to hazardous liquid pipelines in 2000 by issuing final rules requiring operators of these pipelines to develop integrity management programs. While implementing its integrity management approach, OPS must also perform ongoing oversight duties, such as inspecting the construction of new pipelines and investigating pipeline incidents. In addition to meeting its ambitious schedule, OPS faces a number of other challenges in implementing this new regulatory approach. These challenges include (1) enforcing the integrity management requirements consistently and effectively, (2) ensuring that natural gas transmission pipeline operators use assessment methods appropriately, (3) establishing an inspection interval for natural gas transmission pipelines, (4) measuring and reporting on the effectiveness of the approach, and (5) developing and implementing an approach for overseeing pipeline security. OPS's efforts to identify the resources and expertise needed to implement its integrity management approach are hampered by the lack of an up-to-date assessment of current and future staffing and training needs and an examination of the workforce's deployment across the organization--essential elements of a "workforce plan."

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In March 2005, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Agency (PHMSA), formerly OPS, developed a workforce plan. The plan identifies trends likely to impact the number and types of field staff needed and identifies competences needed to meet PHMSA's strategic goals. In addition, the plan includes an examination of how its workforce should be deployed across the organization and suggests assigning staff to regions based on regional workload and need. The plan was implemented in Fall 2005 as PHMSA began inspections under its Gas Pipeline Integrity Management Program.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct OPS to develop a workforce plan that contains an updated assessment of OPS's current and future staffing and training needs and an examination of the workforce's deployment across the organization.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: As part of its implementation of the gas integrity management program, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Agency (PHMSA), formerly OPS, has implemented a number of initiatives that are responsive to this recommendation. These include meetings and conference calls with state officials, orientation and training sessions for state agencies concerning integrity management, and providing states with access to agency information systems and databases. In response to a GAO survey in Spring 2006, the majority of state pipeline safety agencies indicated that PHMSA's efforts to improve communication and guidance are useful.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct OPS to develop a strategy for communicating to the states what role they will play in conducting integrity management inspections and other oversight activities.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

 

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