Chemical Safety Board

Improved Policies and Additional Oversight Are Needed Gao ID: RCED-00-192 July 11, 2000

Management problems at the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board have called into question the Board's effectiveness in investigating the causes of accidental chemical releases. This report discusses the Board's current organization and operations; its efforts to develop plans, policies, and procedures, including those to ensure objectivity of its investigative activities; and whether the Board would benefit from the independent oversight of an inspector general. Continuing disagreements between Board members and the former Chairman raise questions about the Board's productivity and effectiveness. In addition to limited progress in addressing its investigative backlog, the Board has undertaken no new investigations since March 1999. The Board has established eight priorities for the balance of fiscal year 2000, including the completion of three investigative reports. The Board is developing a strategic plan, and progress has been made toward policies and procedures to guide the Board's activities. However, the Board's interim investigative protocol lacks the policies and procedures needed to ensure objectivity and balance in its investigative work, such as conflicts of interest. GAO recommends that the Board adopt clear policies and procedures on potential conflicts of interest and consider policies used by other investigative agencies that promote investigative impartiality and thoroughness. The operational problems of the Board suggest that ongoing institutional oversight would be beneficial. GAO believes that an office of inspector general offers the best hope for effective institutional oversight and recommends that the Board develop an agreement with an existing inspector general to provide such oversight.

GAO noted that: (1) since January 2000, the Board has been operating under a new organizational structure based on shared decision-making, which was not in effect during most of its first 2 years of operation; (2) continuing disagreements between three of the Board members and the former Chairman raise questions concerning the Board's future productivity and effectiveness; (3) in terms of operations, the Board has made only limited progress in addressing the investigative backlog that developed after its first year, and it has not initiated a new investigation since March 1999; (4) however, the realigned Board established eight priorities for the balance of fiscal year 2000 that support its primary investigative mission, including the completion of three investigative reports; (5) the Board has made some progress in developing needed plans, policies, and procedures to guide its activities; (6) for example, the Board issued formal written procedures for awarding and managing contracts in December 1999; (7) however, these policies were not in place when most of the Board's larger contracts ($100,000 or more) were executed, and Board officials have identified a number of contracting activities that appear to have provided limited benefit to the agency; (8) furthermore, the Board is revising its interim criteria for selecting incidents to investigate as well as its investigative protocol and is developing a strategic plan to both meet statutory requirements and update its business plan; (9) the Board plans to have these plans and guides completed by September 2000; (10) the Board's interim investigative protocol does not include needed policies and procedures that would help ensure objectivity and balance in its investigative work, such as those covering conflicts of interest; (11) the operational problems that the Board has experienced in its 2-1/2 years of existence--including governance and management conflicts, contracting expenditures of limited value, and the lack of basic operating policies and procedures--suggest that ongoing institutional oversight would be beneficial; and (12) while the Board could develop an in-house audit function or contract out for evaluations, GAO believes an option that offers the best potential for effective oversight would be for the Board to obtain the services of an existing office of inspector general.


Our recommendations from this work are listed below with a Contact for more information. Status will change from "In process" to "Open," "Closed - implemented," or "Closed - not implemented" based on our follow up work.

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