Chemical Safety Board: Improvements in Management and Oversight Are Needed

GAO-08-864R Published: Aug 22, 2008. Publicly Released: Aug 22, 2008.
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The principal role of the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) is to investigate accidental releases of regulated or extremely hazardous substances to determine the conditions and circumstances that led to the accident and to identify the cause or causes so that similar accidents might be prevented. Accidental releases of these toxic and hazardous chemicals occur frequently and often have serious consequences. CSB reported to Congress that the agency received notification of approximately 900 chemical accidents in calendar year 2007, and that 31 of these accidents were serious or even fatal events that warranted the commitment of CSB investigators. CSB began operating in 1998 as an independent agency created under the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990. The act directs CSB to (1) investigate and report on the cause or probable cause of any accidental chemical releases from stationary sources resulting in a fatality, serious injury, or substantial property damages; (2) make recommendations to reduce the likelihood or consequences of accidental chemical releases and propose corrective measures; and (3) establish regulations for reporting accidental releases. The agency publishes investigative reports and issues safety studies and videos to help prevent future accidents. Congress modeled CSB after the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), which has a similar public safety mission. Like NTSB, CSB has no enforcement authority and a limited regulatory role. As outlined in the authorizing statute, CSB is to be managed by a five-member board. Currently the board has one vacancy. CSB received an appropriation of $9.4 million for fiscal year 2008 and had 39 staff as of January 30, 2008.

CSB has implemented some GAO and IG recommendations related to improving its operating policies and procedures since we last reported in July 2000. However, we found that CSB has not fully addressed several critical recommendations, and problems in governance, management, and oversight persist. Specifically, CSB has not fully responded to key recommendations related to investigating more accidents that meet statutory requirements triggering CSB's responsibility to investigate, improving the quality of its accident data, resolving human capital problems, and ensuring accountability and continuity of management. In our view, independent oversight from an existing IG remains the most effective way to help CSB address its continuing problems, provided that the arrangement is made permanent and funding is provided to the IG for the function.

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Matter for Congressional Consideration

Matter Status Comments
Congress may wish to consider amending CSB's authorizing statute or the Inspector General Act of 1978 to permanently give Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Inspector General the authority to serve as the oversight body for the agency.
Closed – Not Implemented
As of March 2019, the Inspector General Act of 1978 has not been amended to reflect this matter and we are closing it.
As Congress prepares the appropriation of the EPA Inspector General, it may wish to consider providing the Inspector General with appropriations and staff allocations specifically for the audit function of CSB via a direct line in the EPA appropriation.
Closed – Not Implemented
As of March 2019, the appropriations of the EPA Inspector General have not been changed to reflect this matter and we are closing it.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board The Chairman of the Chemical Safety Board should develop a plan to address the investigative gap and request the necessary resources from Congress to meet CSB's statutory mandate or seek an amendment to its statutory mandate.
Closed – Implemented
The Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) agrees that an investigative gap, as described in our August 2008 report, exists. However, the CSB believes that the statutory mandate for CSB investigation is so broad that the CSB would likely never receive enough money from the Congress to meet it. Therefore, CSB has developed and is implementing a plan to close the investigative gap. As part of this plan, CSB has taken the following actions: In November 2009, CSB sent a letter to the House and Senate Authorizing committees and the House and Senate Appropriations committees requesting that Congress provide clarification or amendment to its statutory mandate as recommended by GAO. In fiscal year 2009, CSB established its first regional office in Denver, Colorado. The Denver Office is now staffed with a five-person investigative team to more quickly respond to accidents that occur in the West and Midwest. In addition, CSB has been able to more easily recruit and retain investigators than it has in its Washington, DC office. Since CSB believes that the regional office approach is a key method to decrease the investigative gap, CSB is requesting funds in its FY 2011 budget request to open a (second) five-person investigative office in Houston, Texas.
Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board The Chairman of the Chemical Safety Board should consider using the work of other entities, such as government agencies, companies, and contractors (subject to an assessment of the quality of their work), to a greater extent to maximize the board's limited resources.
Closed – Implemented
CSB has updated its operating procedures and directed investigators to use the work of others to a greater extent than in the past as another way to reduce the investigative gap. In addition, CSB has requested funding in its Fiscal Year 2011 budget request to establish a new three-person investigative team that will be primarily focused on conducting short-term investigations or assessments by using the work of other emergency responders.
Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board The Chairman of the Chemical Safety Board should improve the quality of its accident-screening database by better controlling data entry and periodically sampling accident data to evaluate their consistency and completeness.
Closed – Implemented
CSB hired a full-time incident screener to provide daily accident screening, identification, follow up with first responders and other sources of information on chemical accidents, implemented a new more secure electronic document and records management system that includes data entry controls and auditing features, and implemented additional management controls over the incident screening process.
Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board The Chairman of the Chemical Safety Board should publish a regulation requiring facilities to report all chemical accidents, as required by law, to better inform the agency of important details about accidents that it may not receive from current sources.
Closed – Not Implemented
As of June 2016, the Chemical Safety Board had not completed a final rule
Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board The Chairman of the Chemical Safety Board should consider reinstating the position of chief operating officer, with delegations of responsibility for establishing performance goals, holding program mangers accountable for meeting those goals, and demonstrating improvement in the agency's ability to meet it statutory mandates over time.
Closed – Implemented
In September 2010, CSB created the new position of managing director with responsibility for all aspects of CSB operations.
Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board The Chairman of the Chemical Safety Board should use the Strategic Management of Human Capital portion of the President's Management Agenda to provide criteria for developing a comprehensive human capital plan, with input from investigators that includes specific objectives and performance measures to improve accountability for results and to assist the agency in its goal of improving its human capital and infrastructure.
Closed – Implemented
In October 2009, CSB developed its first Human Capital Plan and accompanying Human Capital Accountability System.

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