Chemical Safety Board:

Realigned Management Faces Serious Challenges

T-RCED-00-147: Published: Apr 12, 2000. Publicly Released: Apr 12, 2000.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO discussed the fiscal year (FY) 2001 budget for the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board, focusing on determining the status of the Board's: (1) organization; (2) operations; and (3) efforts to update and develop plans, policies, and procedures for accomplishing the Board's mission.

GAO noted that: (1) the Board is operating under a significantly different organizational structure than was in effect during most of its first 2 years of operation; (2) this new structure requires a majority vote of the Board members for substantive management decisions and delegates some specific responsibilities to individual Board members; (3) the current structure represents an interim solution to address two governance issues: the lack of an appointed chairperson and disagreements concerning the roles of the chairperson and Board members; (4) during the first 2 years of operation, the Chairman had individually made substantive management decisions; (5) in addition, the Board has implemented an organizational realignment that dedicates an increased proportion of the Board's staffing resources to its investigations and safety programs rather than supporting activities; (6) however, only 7 of the 17 investigative and safety positions are filled because of, among other things, difficulties in recruiting qualified staff; (7) in terms of operations, the Board has made minimal progress in addressing the backlog of incomplete investigations that existed as of April 1999; (8) specifically, only one of nine outstanding investigations has been completed, and no new investigations were initiated; (9) most of the Board's operations and plans are directed at completing its backlog of investigations and the related policies and procedures that support investigations; (10) the Board also plans to initiate two new investigations and one as yet undefined safety study in FY 2000; (11) the Board has made some progress in developing needed plans, policies, and procedures; (12) however, all of the Board's larger contracts were executed before the contracting policies and procedures were established; (13) according to Board officials, the agency has received limited benefit from some of these contracts; (14) also, the interim criteria for selecting incidents to investigate are not ready for use, and the Board plans to continue to work with external stakeholders representing companies, employees, and the public to refine the process for selecting incidents to investigate; (15) GAO believes that the Board's initial steps since the management realignment appear to be appropriately targeted to addressing the Board's key problems; and (16) however, the success of these steps continues to be hampered by difficulties in hiring and retaining investigators.

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