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Highlights

From 1998 through 2002, a total of 1,770 pipeline accidents occurred, resulting in 100 fatalities and $621 million in property damage. The Office of Pipeline Safety (OPS) within the Department of Transportation operates a research and development (R&D) program aimed at advancing the most promising technologies for ensuring the safe operation of pipelines. In fiscal year 2003, OPS received $8.7 million for its R&D program, a sevenfold increase since fiscal year 1998. In response to a directive from the House Committee on Appropriations, GAO (1) assessed OPS's distribution of funding among various areas of R&D and the alignment of this funding with its mission and goals, (2) surveyed experts to obtain their views on R&D priorities, and (3) determined how OPS evaluates R&D outcomes.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Transportation To improve OPS's ability to demonstrate the effectiveness of its R&D program and make the most effective use of program funds, the Secretary of Transportation should direct OPS to develop a systematic process for evaluating the outcomes of its R&D program that incorporates identified best practices.
Closed - Implemented

Recommendation status is Closed - Implemented.

In response to this recommendation, OPS has developed a process for systematically evaluating the outcomes of its R&D program. This process includes the following components: (1) clear goals, (2) measures of progress toward achieving these goals, (3) expert review to evaluate the quality of research outcomes, and (4) periodic reporting on evaluation results. In its report, GAO had cited each of these as best practices for evaluating R&D that had been identified by leading research organizations, OMB, and GAO.
Department of Transportation To improve OPS's ability to demonstrate the effectiveness of its R&D program and make the most effective use of program funds, the Secretary of Transportation should include in the annual reports to Congress, which are required by the Pipeline Safety Improvement Act, information on the results of R&D evaluations.
Closed - Implemented

Recommendation status is Closed - Implemented.

In response to GAO's recommendation, OPS included performance measures for its R&D program in the interagency pipeline R&D report to Congress for fiscal year 2004. This report--which was prepared by OPS, DOE, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology--was provided to Congress in June 2005. OPS plans to continue to report performance measures for its R&D program in future annual reports to Congress on interagency pipeline R&D efforts.

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