Offshore Oil and Gas:

Environmental Studies Program Meets Most User Needs but Changes Needed

RCED-88-104: Published: Jun 29, 1988. Publicly Released: Aug 1, 1988.

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In response to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Department of the Interior's outer continental shelf (OCS) environmental studies program to determine: (1) whether contractors timely delivered environmental studies in relation to originally scheduled due dates and planned lease uses; (2) the level of user satisfaction with the studies and how Interior's Minerals Management Service (MMS) used them for OCS decisionmaking; and (3) whether MMS and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) could use Alaska program resources more efficiently.

GAO found that: (1) although MMS and NOAA received most draft and final studies after their originally scheduled due dates, most of the studies were in time for planned lease sale uses; (2) most of the program studies users were satisfied with the studies' usefulness, timeliness, and quality, but some groups reported that they received half of the studies too late to provide input to MMS on lease sale decisions; and (3) recent declines in program funding for Alaska and in the number of studies contracts, as well as duplication of administrative functions by MMS and NOAA, reduced program efficiency.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: MMS and NOAA signed an interagency agreement, effective April 4, 1991, that restructured the Alaska environmental studies program and enhanced program efficiency. Under the agreement, NOAA staff will conduct in-house environmental studies, while program management functions (e.g., contract award and administration) are consolidated in MMS.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should direct the Director, MMS, to develop alternatives for making more efficient the Alaska environmental studies program contract award and administration functions currently carried out by both NOAA and MMS. In deciding which alternative to pursue, MMS should consider not only potential dollar savings but also other issues, such as staffing, public perception of objectivity, and continuity of scientific expertise.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior


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