Conduct of DOE's Gasohol Study Group:

Issues and Observations

EMD-80-128: Published: Sep 30, 1980. Publicly Released: Oct 31, 1980.

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GAO evaluated 12 allegations concerning the establishment and conduct of the Energy Research Advisory Board's Gasohol Study Group. The allegations concerned nonadherence to requirements governing federal advisory committees, questions regarding the selection and qualifications of the Study Group members, and problems with the technical quality of the Study Group's report. Regulations require that each of the advisory committees of the Department of Energy (DOE) have an approved charter, publicly announced meetings, detailed minutes of advisory committee meetings, and representation of affected industry viewpoints and functions. DOE did not regard the Gasohol Study Group as an advisory committee and thus did not feel that it was bound by the requirements of the legislation.

GAO found that DOE and the Energy Research Advisory Board did not follow the requirements governing advisory committees in their operation of the Gasohol Study Group. GAO found that the DOE policy regarding subgroups differed with the position of the General Services Administration (GSA), and 12 other federal departments. As the Gasohol Study Group provided advice directly to a DOE official, it was subject to existing legislative requirements. GAO found insufficient evidence to support the contention of conflicts of interest on the part of three Study Group members. A fourth member had been an outspoken critic of gasohol and was developing a potential alternative to gasohol. Such positions can be represented on an advisory committee as long as they are balanced by a countering position. In this case, the balance was achieved to a certain extent. None of the members were involved with the business of ethanol production. The Study Group members lacked formal credentials of financial expertise. GAO found that: (1) three of the allegations concerning the technical quality of the report had little merit; (2) the allegation that the report had no basis for claiming that ethylene-derived ethanol was sacrificing the oil savings advantages of ethanol was valid; and (3) allegations concerning excessively high energy consumption figures and unreasonably low projections of ethanol's production potential were partially valid.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Energy should take those steps necessary to bring the DOE policy regarding advisory committee subgroups into conformity with GSA as to what constitutes an advisory committee under the Federal Advisory Committee Act. The Secretary should revise the DOE regulations regarding advisory committee subgroups to require that such subgroups, when serving in the capacity of advisory committees themselves: (1) be chartered; (2) have meetings which are open to the public and announced in the Federal Register; (3) keep detailed minutes of completed meetings; and (4) make drafts or other documents prepared by the subgroups available for public scrutiny. The Secretary should direct the Board's support office to implement a more systematic basis for selecting members to its study groups and adopt the requirement that in preparing its reports it present: (1) all valid minority viewpoints on the issues it is addressing in addition to the consensus viewpoint; and (2) the limitations of its analyses, including a description of the review scope and methodology employed. The Secretary should undertake a DOE-wide review of its advisory committee activities. If the same problems evident on the Energy Research Advisory Board subgroups are found during this review, the Secretary should implememt the GAO recommendations with respect to these advisory committees as well.

    Agency Affected:


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