Oil and Gas Oversight:

Interior Has Taken Steps to Address Staff Hiring, Retention, and Training but Needs a More Evaluative and Collaborative Approach

GAO-16-742: Published: Sep 29, 2016. Publicly Released: Oct 31, 2016.

Additional Materials:

Contact:

Frank Rusco
(202) 512-3841
ruscof@gao.gov

 

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800
youngc1@gao.gov

The explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in 2010 stressed the importance of supervising oil and gas production. To that end, the Department of the Interior has been trying to hire, retain, and train qualified staff to oversee these activities. For example, it has increased salaries for key staff and is helping to pay off more employee student loans. However, we found that Interior doesn't know if these efforts are working. It also hasn't determined whether its training programs are effective.

We recommend that Interior evaluate its hiring incentives and training programs, and increase collaboration across its offices.

Offshore Oil Rig Facility (left) and an Inspector Leaving an Oil Rig Facility in a Helicopter

A picture of an oil rig, and a picture of an inspector leaving an oil rig in a helicopter.

A picture of an oil rig, and a picture of an inspector leaving an oil rig in a helicopter.

Additional Materials:

Contact:

Frank Rusco
(202) 512-3841
ruscof@gao.gov

 

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800
youngc1@gao.gov

What GAO Found

The Department of the Interior has taken steps to resolve its hiring and retention challenges for key staff engaged in oil and gas activities, but it has not evaluated the effectiveness of its efforts and has missed opportunities to collaborate within the department for resolving these challenges. Specifically, Interior has taken steps to address two underlying factors—lower salaries and a lengthier hiring process compared with industry—that impede its ability to hire and retain such staff. For example, in fiscal year 2012 Interior began using special salary rates to give higher pay to certain key staff in its bureaus that oversee oil and gas resources: the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE), and Bureau of Ocean and Energy Management (BOEM). To bolster compensation further, some bureaus increased the number of staff receiving student loan repayments and other incentives. Officials said these efforts in fiscal year 2015 filled positions, but they had not evaluated the effectiveness of their efforts. As a result, Interior cannot determine how or whether it should alter its approach. Regarding the lengthy hiring process, the bureaus recently adopted new human resources software that may provide them with better data to track their hiring process. As the bureaus sought to improve hiring and retention, Interior's Office of Policy, Management and Budget—which is charged with managing human resources and addressing cross-cutting issues—missed opportunities to facilitate collaboration across the bureaus. For example, two bureaus used separate recruitment teams that did not collaborate. Senior officials in the office did not identify any collaboration mechanism that they used to bring the bureaus together to discuss shared challenges. Without such a mechanism, the bureaus may continue to address these challenges through fragmented and potentially duplicative efforts.

Interior has trained key oil and gas staff without fully evaluating the bureaus' staff training needs or the training's effectiveness, according to officials, and Interior has provided limited leadership in facilitating the bureaus' sharing of training resources. The Federal Workforce Flexibility Act of 2004 and Office of Personnel Management (OPM) regulations require agencies to evaluate their training efforts, but Interior's Office of Policy, Management and Budget has not performed these evaluations. In addition, none of the bureaus have evaluated training, according to officials, and only one developed technical competencies for staff as directed in Interior's Departmental Manual. Further, BSEE's training for inspectors does not include proficiency examinations or certifications, according to officials, although two oversight bodies recommended implementing a certification program in 2010. Interior has provided limited leadership in facilitating the sharing of training resources across the bureaus, appearing to miss opportunities that could improve the use of these resources. For example, BOEM does not have staff to develop curricula or evaluate training efforts and, as of July 2016, BSEE had 6 full-time staff in their training program, according to officials. These bureaus conduct limited evaluations. In contrast, BLM had 59 staff in its training program and has the capacity to evaluate their training efforts, according to officials. Without further evaluation and leadership, Interior may not be able to ensure key oil and gas staff are adequately trained for their oversight tasks, and the bureaus may miss opportunities to share resources.

Why GAO Did This Study

The explosion onboard the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in April 2010 highlighted the importance of effective oversight of oil and gas activities, but Interior has faced challenges in hiring, retaining, and training staff responsible for such oversight. Since 2011, Interior's management of federal oil and gas resources has been on GAO's list of program areas that are at high risk, partly because of human capital challenges. In a February 2015 update to the list, GAO found that Interior had begun to address these challenges but needed to do more.

GAO was requested to review the status of Interior's human capital challenges. This report examines Interior's efforts to (1) resolve its hiring and retention challenges for key oil and gas staff and (2) address its training needs for such staff. GAO reviewed regulations, reports, and department documents; analyzed Interior and OPM information; and interviewed department officials.

What GAO Recommends

GAO is recommending that Interior evaluate the effectiveness of special salary rates and incentives, evaluate its bureaus' training programs, develop technical competencies for all key oil and gas staff, evaluate the need for a BSEE inspector certification program, and better facilitate collaboration across the bureaus. Interior agreed with one recommendation, partially agreed with 3 others, and disagreed with one recommendation. GAO continues to believe that the recommendations are valid, as discussed in the report.

For more information, contact Frank Rusco at (202) 512-3841 or ruscof@gao.gov.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Open

    Comments: In September 2016, Interior's Office of Policy, Management and Budget outlined a plan to assess the effectiveness of special salary rates, as well as recruitment, relocation, and retention incentives by tracking measures such as turnover and acceptance rates. In January 2017 Interior officials reported that the evaluation of these incentives would be conducted on a regular basis. When we confirm that the agency has implemented its evaluation plan, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: To help ensure Interior can hire, retain, and train staff it needs to provide effective oversight of oil and gas activities on federal lands and waters, the Secretary of the Interior should direct the Assistant Secretary for Policy, Management and Budget to regularly evaluate the effectiveness of its available incentives, such as special salary rates, the student loan repayment program, and other incentives in hiring and retaining key oil and gas staff.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  2. Status: Open

    Comments: In January 2017, Interior officials said the bureaus were developing, or had developed, the means by which they would assess their training needs and review, evaluate, and update their training programs for technical staff. Interior also told GAO that as part of its quarterly review of performance data, the Assistant Secretary for Policy, Management and Budget will ensure that BLM, BSEE and BOEM are coordinating their training needs. Interior officials said that their Office of Strategic Employment and Organizational Development will validate the bureaus' active engagement in this activity and provide support in the fulfillment of this recommendation where needed.

    Recommendation: To help ensure Interior can hire, retain, and train staff it needs to provide effective oversight of oil and gas activities on federal lands and waters, the Secretary of the Interior should direct the Assistant Secretary for Policy, Management and Budget to annually evaluate the bureaus' training programs, including: (1) staff training needs, (2) training effectiveness, and (3) potential opportunities for the bureaus to share training resources.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  3. Status: Open

    Comments: In January 2017 Interior officials reported that the Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management will direct BLM, BSEE and BOEM to identify their individual bureau's respective technical competency needs for all key oil and gas staff and develop a plan with milestones for applying these competencies to recruitment, retention, and training strategies designed to address the unique requirements of each bureau.

    Recommendation: To help ensure Interior can hire, retain, and train staff it needs to provide effective oversight of oil and gas activities on federal lands and waters, the Secretary of the Interior should direct the Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management to develop technical competencies for all key oil and gas staff.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  4. Status: Open

    Comments: In January 2017 Interior officials reported that the Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management will direct BSEE to evaluate certification programs that are used in other federal agencies and in industry to determine whether these types of formalized verification systems could benefit the inspection program. BSEE will award an Inspector Training Program evaluation contract to independently assess the need and effectiveness of a certification program for BSEE inspectors, including benchmarking with the BLM and other federal enforcement and compliance entities with inspector workforces.

    Recommendation: To help ensure Interior can hire, retain, and train staff it needs to provide effective oversight of oil and gas activities on federal lands and waters, the Secretary of the Interior should direct the Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management to evaluate the need for and viability of a certification program for BSEE inspectors.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  5. Status: Open

    Comments: As of March 2017, Interior has not identified what mechanism it will use to facilitate collaboration across the three bureaus. In January 2017, Interior officials reported that as part of its quarterly review of performance data, the Assistant Secretary for Policy, Management and Budget will coordinate with the Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management. We will provide updated information when the agency demonstrates that it has created or selected an existing mechanism to use for ongoing collaboration across the three bureaus in addressing their shared hiring, retention, and training challenges.

    Recommendation: To help ensure Interior can hire, retain, and train staff it needs to provide effective oversight of oil and gas activities on federal lands and waters, the Secretary of the Interior should direct the Assistant Secretary for Policy, Management and Budget to coordinate with the Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management to create or use an existing mechanism, such as the Deputies Operating Group, Principals Operating Group, or the Interior Training Directors Council, to facilitate collaboration across the three bureaus in addressing their shared hiring, retention, and training challenges.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

 

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