Safety and Health:

Key Independent Oversight Program at DOE Needs Strengthening

RCED-93-85: Published: May 17, 1993. Publicly Released: Jun 22, 1993.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO evaluated the effectiveness of the Department of Energy's (DOE) Site Representative Program's oversight of safety and health at DOE facilities.

GAO found that: (1) the DOE Office of Environment, Safety, and Health (ES&H) did not implement its plans for a nationwide inspectors program or develop a systematic approach for assessing line management's performance in areas affecting safety and health; (2) staff shortfalls prevented ES&H from monitoring contractors' safety and health performance; (3) ES&H staff received little guidance or training on how to conduct and report assessments; (4) the Site Resident Program did not require line management to respond to program findings or adequately address significant safety and health problems; (5) ES&H did not follow up to determine if line management had corrected problems because there was a lack of staff and guidance outlining followup responsibilities; (6) ES&H made such program improvements as covering all DOE sites, providing better guidance, evaluating line management's implementation of safety programs, and following up on findings to determine the adequacy of corrective actions; (7) despite such improvements and the development of a more systematic approach to monitoring field offices' and contractors' safety and health performance, the Site Representative Program has staffing shortages, program coverage of occupational health has ceased, and site representatives are not devoting the required time to identify safety problems; (8) ES&H has shifted its program's focus from compliance inspections to performance assessments because it believes that performance assessments will identify DOE and contractor program weaknesses that cause noncompliance; and (9) DOE field offices are responsible for monitoring compliance with safety and health standards, but they have not done so because of numerous problems and conflicts of interest.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOE's ES&H Office has recently developed a process for systematically evaluating and rating the environmental, safety, and health performance of DOE sites. In August 1995, the office issued its first report that included such ratings, "Independent Oversight Evaluation of Environment, Safety, and Health Programs, Rocky Flats Environmental Technology Site." This fall, the office plans to issue similar reports on the Pantex, Idaho, and Sandia sites. The ES&H Office is basing its ratings on evaluations at these sites. Prior to each evaluation, the office prepares a site profile to be used in scoping the evaluation. The site profile is a compilation of prior reviews of ES&H performance at the site, including reviews by the site representatives.

    Recommendation: To strengthen the ES&H Office's independent internal oversight through routine on-site monitoring of line management's performance, the Secretary of Energy should more effectively utilize the monitoring performed by the site representatives by requiring the ES&H Office to develop a systematic process for periodically evaluating and rating, on the basis of site representatives' observations and other available information, individual field offices' and contractors' performance in areas affecting safety and health.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In July 1994, the ES&H Office gave new instructions to the site representatives, requiring them to spend a minimum of 80 percent of their time monitoring work-place practices. In addition, the Secretary in May 1993 rescinded a DOE requirement that the ES&H Office give line management 60 days advance notice prior to performing an assessment. ES&H Office officials told GAO that the site representatives are now spending much more than 20-30 percent of their time observing work practices in DOE facilities, through unannounced visits.

    Recommendation: To strengthen the ES&H Office's independent internal oversight through routine on-site monitoring of line management's performance, the Secretary of Energy should improve the Site Representative Program's ability to monitor line management's performance by readjusting work priorities to ensure that the site representatives meet the requirement that they spend 20 to 30 percent of their time observing work practices in DOE facilities, through unannounced visits, in addition to the time they spend doing this as part of scheduled performance assessments.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The ES&H Office has developed a training program for the site representatives, which includes minimum training requirements and a formal qualification process. The Office issued an instruction governing this training program in October 1993.

    Recommendation: To strengthen the ES&H Office's independent internal oversight through routine on-site monitoring of line management's performance, the Secretary of Energy should improve the Site Representative Program's ability to monitor line management's performance by establishing minimum training requirements to ensure that site representatives receive adequate training to perform their duties.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The ES&H Office has reinstituted the Site Representative Program's coverage of occupational health. However, the Office has not significantly increased the number of representatives responsible for covering occupational safety and health. The Office had planned to hire eight additional representatives with occupational safety and health expertise by the end of 1995 but has been able to hire only two because of a hiring freeze. According to the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Oversight of the ES&H Office, the office has compensated by using headquarters staff to help the representatives conduct oversight at their sites.

    Recommendation: To strengthen the ES&H Office's independent internal oversight through routine on-site monitoring of line management's performance, the Secretary of Energy should improve the Site Representative Program's coverage of line management's activities affecting occupational safety and health by reinstituting the program's coverage of occupational health, determining the number of staff the program needs to effectively monitor DOE performance in these areas, and staffing the program accordingly.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  5. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOE is reducing and consolidating its existing orders. It has no plans to issue a new order specifying how line management should respond to site representatives' findings.

    Recommendation: To strengthen the ES&H Office's independent internal oversight through routine on-site monitoring of line management's performance, the Secretary of Energy should improve the ES&H Office's ability to ensure that the safety and health issues identified by the site representatives are resolved by issuing a new DOE order specifying how line management should respond to site representatives' findings, in particular: (1) requiring line management to submit corrective action plans, with clear milestones, to the ES&H Office within specified time frames and report on completed corrective actions; and (2) establishing a formal process for the ES&H Office to elevate concerns about line management's responsiveness to the Secretary.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

 

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