Audit Report: PHMSA Lacks Management, Oversight, Coordination to Properly Implement Safety Rules

PHMSA has repeatedly lacked timeliness and coordination when implementing safety laws and recommendations related to oil train explosions, pipeline leaks, gas well eruptions, and other energy infrastructure-related risks, according to a recent audit conducted by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The audit found that PHMSA, an agency responsible for overseeing 2.6 million miles of pipeline in the U.S., missed the deadline to complete required rules or studies 73 percent of the time since 2005.

Further, PHMSA has missed “115 of 118 NTSB [National Transportation Safety Board] recommendations and 10 of 12 GAO [Government Accountability Office] recommendations” since 2005.

According to the audit findings, delays were sometimes caused by poor planning to coordinate with other federal agencies. Delays were also sometimes caused by PHMSA offices’ lack of the right steps to implement big projects, such as developing plans; establishing priorities; identifying team member roles and responsibilities; creating timetables; or justifying delays.

According to Mr. DeFazio, a representative of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, PHMSA has allowed several years to pass without finalizing important safety measures written in the Pipeline Safety, Regulatory Certainty, and Job Creation Act of 2011. 

Pipeline standards have also moved slowly, including a proposal to map out the nation’s network of pipeline called “gathering lines,” which still remains uncompleted.

PHMSA’s slow-moving habits have frustrated lawmakers who cannot complete certain objectives until specific rule-makings have been implemented. For example, a 2011 law required PHMSA to head 42 rule-makings and studies, but over 25 percent of the projects remains incomplete as of July of this year.

An article published on Politico last year showed that PHMSA’s lack of efficient progress may also be because the agency is extremely underfunded and understaffed. The article stated that the agency’s annual budget of $145.5 million is “less than what the Pentagon spent on a single engine maintenance contract last year.”

The article also stated PHSMA may be “understaffed to provide adequate oversight of the industry” but is not “understaffed to move a regulatory framework.” Instead, history has shown that the agency has just lacked the will to do so, according to the article.

The U.S. Department of Transportation recommended at the end of its audit report that PHMSA implement five actions the agency can take to make changes to its poor structure. PHMSA agreed with four of the five, and the department now waits to see if PHMSA will implement these recommendations.

U.S. Department of Transportation
Office of Inspector General - Audit Report