Natural Resources and Environment:

Implementation of the National Minerals and Materials Policy Needs Better Coordination and Focus

RCED-84-63: Published: Mar 20, 1984. Publicly Released: Apr 2, 1984.

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In response to a congressional request, GAO monitored and reviewed the administration's implementation of the National Materials and Minerals Policy, Research and Development Act, which was passed to: (1) coordinate and implement a coherent national materials and minerals policy and program through the Executive Office of the President and the Cabinet; (2) promote an adequate and stable supply of minerals and materials necessary to maintain national security, economic well-being, and industrial production; and (3) assign reporting requirements to several agencies.

GAO found that, while the administration has started to implement the act by establishing or proposing new working groups and reconstituting others, the new groups have not been coordinated by the Cabinet Council. Moreover, they add to the number of activities that must be coordinated and exacerbate the ad hoc coordination conditions which the act was expected to replace. In addition, important mineral- and material-related actions have been taken without the coordination required by the act. Furthermore, the Cabinet Council on Natural Resources and the Environment lacks the breadth of membership needed to address minerals and materials issues. Because the council is restricted to Cabinet members, agencies on the working group are not included. Moreover, there is no formal procedure for these sub-Cabinet agencies to bring issues to the Cabinet's attention. Although the program plan emphasized the importance of the protection of national security, it neglected to offer an approach for determining which strategic materials or minerals are most critical or how vulnerable the United States is to any supply disruptions. Finally, GAO found that an assessment of national materials needs required by the act has been given low priority and has not been prepared, a report on critical materials needs related to national security is still under review, and another required report was submitted 2 years late.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: In response to the issues developed in the report and past inaction by the administration, Congress recently established the National Critical Materials Council. The actions recommended to the Office of Science and Technology Policy are now the primary responsibility of the new Council.

    Recommendation: The Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy should prepare a required assessment of national materials needs related to scientific and technological changes over the next 5 years. This should be used together with any recommended redirection resulting from the Committee on Material's inventory of federal minerals and materials research and development programs to evaluate the Department of Energy's proposed new initiative in materials sciences and coordinate the initiative through the Cabinet Council on Natural Resources and the Environment.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The subject DOD report was completed and sent to OMB for coordination and release on August 8, 1984. However, OMB disagreed with the report and it was never released to Congress. As far as DOD is concerned, the issued is now dead.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should make its report assessing critical materials needs related to national security available to Congress as required by the act. The report should address the magnitude or degree of U.S. vulnerability in materials markets critical to national security and the appropriateness of the federal role proposed.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  3. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: In response to the issues developed in the report and past inaction by the administration, Congress recently established the National Materials Council. The actions recommended to the Department of the Interior are now the primary responsibility of the new Council.

    Recommendation: If the administration continues to coordinate national nonfuel minerals and materials policy and programs through the Cabinet Council on Natural Resources and the Environment, the Secretary of the Interior, as Chairman pro tem of the Cabinet Council, should establish a process to provide for decision and policy coordination and high-level consideration of important mineral- and material-related issues on a timely basis. This is consistent with requirements of the act and program plan. This process should include a formal procedure for sub-Cabinet agencies having major minerals or materials responsibilities and programs, but not represented on the Cabinet Council, to bring their mineral- and material-related issues to the Council's attention.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  4. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: In response to the issues developed in the report and past inaction by the administration, Congress recently established the National Critical Materials Council. The actions recommended to the Department of the Interior are now the primary responsibility of the new Council.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior, as Chairman pro tem of the Cabinet Council on Natural Resources and the Environment, should expand the President's April 5, 1982, program plan to: (1) address the broad issue of adequate materials availability, including an approach that considers all the components of materials systems such as extraction, production, processing, use, recycling, and disposal as well as mineral-related industrial infrastructure issues affecting the act's goals of economic well-being and industrial production; (2) develop an approach to measure the magnitude or degree of U.S. vulnerability to supply disruptions or sharp price increases in given strategic and critical minerals or materials markets; and (3) address what the proper federal role should be in a given minerals or materials market, including the appropriate future role of high technology materials research and development. The expanded program plan should be resubmitted to Congress.

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Office of Science and Technology Policy

 

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