Oil and Gas Oversight: Interior Has Taken Steps to Address Staff Hiring, Retention, and Training but Needs a More Evaluative and Collaborative Approach
The explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in 2010 stressed the importance of supervising oil and gas production. To that end, the Department of the Interior has been trying to hire, retain, and train qualified staff to oversee these activities. For example, it has increased salaries for key staff and is helping to pay off more employee student loans. However, we found that Interior doesn't know if these efforts are working. It also hasn't determined whether its training programs are effective.
We recommend that Interior evaluate its hiring incentives and training programs, and increase collaboration across its offices.
Offshore Oil Rig Facility (left) and an Inspector Leaving an Oil Rig Facility in a Helicopter
A picture of an oil rig, and a picture of an inspector leaving an oil rig in a helicopter.
What GAO Found
The Department of the Interior has taken steps to resolve its hiring and retention challenges for key staff engaged in oil and gas activities, but it has not evaluated the effectiveness of its efforts and has missed opportunities to collaborate within the department for resolving these challenges. Specifically, Interior has taken steps to address two underlying factors—lower salaries and a lengthier hiring process compared with industry—that impede its ability to hire and retain such staff. For example, in fiscal year 2012 Interior began using special salary rates to give higher pay to certain key staff in its bureaus that oversee oil and gas resources: the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE), and Bureau of Ocean and Energy Management (BOEM). To bolster compensation further, some bureaus increased the number of staff receiving student loan repayments and other incentives. Officials said these efforts in fiscal year 2015 filled positions, but they had not evaluated the effectiveness of their efforts. As a result, Interior cannot determine how or whether it should alter its approach. Regarding the lengthy hiring process, the bureaus recently adopted new human resources software that may provide them with better data to track their hiring process. As the bureaus sought to improve hiring and retention, Interior's Office of Policy, Management and Budget—which is charged with managing human resources and addressing cross-cutting issues—missed opportunities to facilitate collaboration across the bureaus. For example, two bureaus used separate recruitment teams that did not collaborate. Senior officials in the office did not identify any collaboration mechanism that they used to bring the bureaus together to discuss shared challenges. Without such a mechanism, the bureaus may continue to address these challenges through fragmented and potentially duplicative efforts.
Interior has trained key oil and gas staff without fully evaluating the bureaus' staff training needs or the training's effectiveness, according to officials, and Interior has provided limited leadership in facilitating the bureaus' sharing of training resources. The Federal Workforce Flexibility Act of 2004 and Office of Personnel Management (OPM) regulations require agencies to evaluate their training efforts, but Interior's Office of Policy, Management and Budget has not performed these evaluations. In addition, none of the bureaus have evaluated training, according to officials, and only one developed technical competencies for staff as directed in Interior's Departmental Manual. Further, BSEE's training for inspectors does not include proficiency examinations or certifications, according to officials, although two oversight bodies recommended implementing a certification program in 2010. Interior has provided limited leadership in facilitating the sharing of training resources across the bureaus, appearing to miss opportunities that could improve the use of these resources. For example, BOEM does not have staff to develop curricula or evaluate training efforts and, as of July 2016, BSEE had 6 full-time staff in their training program, according to officials. These bureaus conduct limited evaluations. In contrast, BLM had 59 staff in its training program and has the capacity to evaluate their training efforts, according to officials. Without further evaluation and leadership, Interior may not be able to ensure key oil and gas staff are adequately trained for their oversight tasks, and the bureaus may miss opportunities to share resources.
Why GAO Did This Study
The explosion onboard the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in April 2010 highlighted the importance of effective oversight of oil and gas activities, but Interior has faced challenges in hiring, retaining, and training staff responsible for such oversight. Since 2011, Interior's management of federal oil and gas resources has been on GAO's list of program areas that are at high risk, partly because of human capital challenges. In a February 2015 update to the list, GAO found that Interior had begun to address these challenges but needed to do more.
GAO was requested to review the status of Interior's human capital challenges. This report examines Interior's efforts to (1) resolve its hiring and retention challenges for key oil and gas staff and (2) address its training needs for such staff. GAO reviewed regulations, reports, and department documents; analyzed Interior and OPM information; and interviewed department officials.
GAO is recommending that Interior evaluate the effectiveness of special salary rates and incentives, evaluate its bureaus' training programs, develop technical competencies for all key oil and gas staff, evaluate the need for a BSEE inspector certification program, and better facilitate collaboration across the bureaus. Interior agreed with one recommendation, partially agreed with 3 others, and disagreed with one recommendation. GAO continues to believe that the recommendations are valid, as discussed in the report.
Recommendations for Executive Action
|Department of the Interior||To help ensure Interior can hire, retain, and train staff it needs to provide effective oversight of oil and gas activities on federal lands and waters, the Secretary of the Interior should direct the Assistant Secretary for Policy, Management and Budget to regularly evaluate the effectiveness of its available incentives, such as special salary rates, the student loan repayment program, and other incentives in hiring and retaining key oil and gas staff.||
In September 2016, Interior's Office of Policy, Management and Budget outlined a plan to assess the effectiveness of special salary rates, as well as recruitment, relocation, and retention incentives by tracking measures such as turnover and acceptance rates. In August 2018, officials reported that the three bureaus had taken initial steps to evaluate the effectiveness of one of its incentives, special salary rates. In November 2019, Interior officials provided a summary of their evaluation of workforce data from fiscal years 2016 through 2018. Interior's summary concluded that the three bureaus had experienced an aggregate gain in their key oil and gas staff and officials attributed this gain to use of special salary rates. The agency's summary also indicated that from fiscal years 2016 through 2018 there had been a reduction in the number of key oil and gas staff participating in the student loan repayment program. These analyses demonstrate that the agency has taken steps to address our recommendation that it regularly assess the effectiveness of incentives. However, we will continue to monitor the agency's efforts because Interior's human capital challenges remains a part of GAO's High Risk issue area concerning the Management of Federal Oil and Gas Resources.
|Department of the Interior||To help ensure Interior can hire, retain, and train staff it needs to provide effective oversight of oil and gas activities on federal lands and waters, the Secretary of the Interior should direct the Assistant Secretary for Policy, Management and Budget to annually evaluate the bureaus' training programs, including: (1) staff training needs, (2) training effectiveness, and (3) potential opportunities for the bureaus to share training resources.||
In response to this recommendation, the Interior Training Directors Council, which the bureaus are members of, revised its charter in February 2020 by specifying the group's purpose, mission, and responsibilities among other things. Among the stated purposes are the intent to assess workforce and leadership development policy to determine effectiveness, make recommendations, and prioritize initiatives. The charter requires an annual report on accomplishments, status of ongoing initiatives, and results of an evaluation of policy effectiveness (related to workforce and leadership development) to be provided to the Chief Human Capital Officer and Assistant Secretary for Policy, Management and Budget. In addition, the charter states that members will collaborate and share training resources when possible and that the council will meet at least once per month. To evaluate the effectiveness of training courses, in March 2020, Interior put into place course evaluation tools whereby participants take a course then provide feedback and complete a test. In addition, the bureaus also evaluated opportunities to share training resources through the Interior Training Directors Council. In August 2020, Interior completed a needs assessment of its oil and gas staff and supervisors. Interior told GAO that as part of its quarterly review of performance data, the Assistant Secretary for Policy, Management, and Budget will ensure that BLM, BSEE, and BOEM are coordinating their training needs.
|Department of the Interior||To help ensure Interior can hire, retain, and train staff it needs to provide effective oversight of oil and gas activities on federal lands and waters, the Secretary of the Interior should direct the Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management to develop technical competencies for all key oil and gas staff.||
In January 2017, Interior officials reported that the Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management will direct BLM, BSEE and BOEM to identify their individual bureau's respective technical competency needs for all key oil and gas staff and develop a plan with milestones for applying these competencies to recruitment, retention, and training strategies designed to address the unique requirements of each bureau. In May 2018, Interior officials said the Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management had requested that BLM, BSEE and BOEM provide the plan for identifying key oil and gas positions and their respective technical competencies. As of February 2020, Interior had developed technical competencies for some, but not all, oil and gas staff. In June 2020, Interior provided documentation showing that it had developed technical competencies for all key oil and gas staff.
|Department of the Interior||To help ensure Interior can hire, retain, and train staff it needs to provide effective oversight of oil and gas activities on federal lands and waters, the Secretary of the Interior should direct the Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management to evaluate the need for and viability of a certification program for BSEE inspectors.||
In January 2017 Interior officials reported that the Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management will direct BSEE to evaluate certification programs that are used in other federal agencies and industry to determine whether these types of formalized verification systems could benefit the inspection program. Officials said BSEE will award an Inspector Training Program evaluation contract to independently assess the need and effectiveness of a certification program for BSEE inspectors, including benchmarking with the BLM and other federal enforcement and compliance entities with inspector workforces. In February 2018, Interior officials said a contract was awarded in September 2017 for designing the BSEE Inspector Talent Development Model. As part of the Statement of Work, the contractor assessed the need and viability of a certification program for inspectors, researching and integrating ideas gained from training and professional development practices by other organizations including the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Coast Guard, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The final report was issued in September 2018. Through its benchmarking with other federal entities and its assessment of BSEE's existing program, the contractor's report laid out various options for strengthening the inspector training program including those related to an inspector certification component. In response to this report, BSEE noted in an agency memorandum dated April 2019 that its senior leadership had completed a review of the report findings and concluded that implementing a certification program for inspectors would further benefit BSEE and help ensure that BSEE's inspectors were performing at the highest level possible to ensure fulfillment of BSEE's mission.
|Department of the Interior||To help ensure Interior can hire, retain, and train staff it needs to provide effective oversight of oil and gas activities on federal lands and waters, the Secretary of the Interior should direct the Assistant Secretary for Policy, Management and Budget to coordinate with the Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management to create or use an existing mechanism, such as the Deputies Operating Group, Principals Operating Group, or the Interior Training Directors Council, to facilitate collaboration across the three bureaus in addressing their shared hiring, retention, and training challenges.||
In June 2019, Interior created an internal working group, the Oil and Gas Human Capital Oversight Team, to provide advice, guidance, and recommendations on human capital solutions that address hiring, retention and training challenges for oil and gas occupations. The work group includes representatives from BLM, BSEE and BOEM, and the Chair is the agency's Chief Human Capital Officer. Members signed a charter for the working group in June 2019. According to the charter, the working group will meet at least monthly. As of July 2019, the group had met a total of three times.