Terminating Federal Helium Refining

Gao ID: RCED-95-252R August 28, 1995

Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on the possible consequences of proposed legislation to end the Bureau of Mines' production and sale of refined helium. GAO noted that: (1) the Bureau estimates that production and sale of refined helium could cease within 6 months after legislation is passed and that other related actions could be completed within 2 years if no contingencies are encountered; (2) if the helium program is terminated, program costs would decrease to $20.6 million in the first year and to $3.5 million in the second year; (3) the Bureau estimates that all environmental requirements could be met within 2 years after passage of legislation; (4) the Bureau plans to use standard federal property disposal procedures to dispose of all property associated with helium refining, but private helium refiners have shown no interest in purchasing these assets; (5) about two-thirds of the helium program's employees would be subject to a reduction in force if the program is discontinued, while the remaining one-third would be retained or retired; (6) the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is the only federal user concerned about the availability and cost of refined helium to meet its unique and sporadic needs if the program is terminated; and (7) the Administration's proposal to terminate the helium program differs from the House's proposal and calls for allowing more time for termination, mainly to accommodate NASA needs, abolishing the Helium Fund and depositing sale proceeds into the U.S. Treasury, and capping remaining program spending at $5 million annually.

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