Health and Safety Information:

EPA and OSHA Could Improve Their Processes for Preparing Communication Products

GAO-08-265: Published: Mar 31, 2008. Publicly Released: Apr 30, 2008.

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Agencies address their missions not only through regulations but also by issuing communication products--such as guidance, fact sheets, and brochures--that can provide crucial information to regulated parties and the public. Since 2000, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Office of Prevention, Pesticides, and Toxic Substances (OPPTS) developed new versions of such products to address the potential hazards of exposure to asbestos in automotive brakes. GAO was asked to describe (1) how OSHA and OPPTS prepared their products on asbestos in automotive brakes, (2) the general processes that OSHA and OPPTS use to prepare their communication products, and (3) how these processes compare to those for rulemaking and how recent administration initiatives might affect them. GAO reviewed and analyzed available documents and interviewed officials at OSHA, OPPTS, and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

OSHA and OPPTS followed different paths from 2000 through 2007 to update communication products on asbestos in automotive brakes and clutches. OSHA took longer than OPPTS to produce a final product, and OPPTS' process incorporated more steps to obtain input from external parties. Twice before final posting, OSHA officials had decided to not release drafts that had been prepared, because they needed more data to understand how pervasive asbestos in brake products were and wanted to avoid raising unnecessary alarm. For a time, staff from OSHA and OPPTS considered releasing a joint product. Overall, OSHA and OPPTS took years to complete all the process steps to produce their products on asbestos in automotive brakes and clutches--approximately 5-? years for OSHA and approximately 3-? years for OPPTS. In preparing their respective communication products, both OSHA and OPPTS generally followed applicable agency policies and procedures. Both OSHA and OPPTS have standard processes that guide the initiation, development, review, and dissemination of their communication products. OSHA publicly posts all of its applicable instructions, while OPPTS publicly posts only some. Under both agencies' processes, communication products may be initiated by various sources, developed only after getting management approval, and undergo intraagency coordination and management-level clearance. But interagency (including OMB) or other external reviews are not always required. OSHA's policies for disseminating products focus on responsibilities for posting and maintaining final products on the agency's Web site. Beginning at the development phase, OPPTS policies call for the formulation of a communication plan intended to ensure that the dissemination of a particular product is tailored to reach the intended audience. The agencies' processes establish no specific time frames or benchmarks for how long the preparation of a product should take. GAO identified at least five areas where the agencies' processes for preparing communication products and those for rules have significant differences. In contrast to the agencies' processes for communication products, rulemaking imposes requirements on agencies regarding (1) justification of the rule, (2) interagency reviews of drafts, (3) transparency of the processes used, (4) opportunities for public comment, and (5) the public's ability to monitor development and review. These differences are to be expected, given the binding effect of rules, and are each rooted in legal requirements that apply to rulemaking, but not to the preparation of communication products. In January 2007, the administration imposed new requirements for agencies' significant guidance documents, for example requiring agencies to provide OMB advance notice and an opportunity to consult on significant guidance before issuance. These changes move the treatment of significant guidance closer to the requirements for rules but do not cover any other types of communication products.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: As of May 2011, OSHA officials had identified policies, guidance and other actions taken by the agency that, in combination, addressed this recommendation. OSHA officials stated that, because of the diversity of its compliance assistance materials, the timelines for developing the materials vary. While some products may be developed quickly, circumstances and complexity may affect timelines for product development. OSHA stated that two guidance documents address the timeliness associated with the development and dissemination of compliance assistance products. ADM-03-00-004 (December 11, 2000) addresses the timing for clearances that specify a time period for all regions, National Office Directorates, and Office to review and clear a compliance assistance product. Once the product has been cleared, OSHA Instruction IPC-01-00-006 (September 25, 2007) provides guidance on the dissemination of the compliance assistance products. OSHA Update (10/09): According to OSHA officials, the agency uses several methods to help ensure that a product is completed on a specific timeline. OSHA guidance projects are tracked on the Compliance Assistance Products Under Development database and each project is managed by the OSHA Directorate responsible for its completion. The directorates report to the OSHA Compliance Assistance Coordinating Group (CACG) on product development issues at CACG meetings. OSHA also prepares an annual Compliance Assistance Plan that include plans for product development during the upcoming fiscal year. Products included in the Compliance Assistance Plan are expected to be developed during the specific fiscal year. OSHA's Office of the Assistant Secretary will set deadlines for completion of certain time-sensitive products, such as pandemic influenza outreach materials. In addition, OSHA Instruction IPC-01-00-006 (Section X.F.) requires the originating Directorate/Office to put a product back through clearance if it has not cleared within 120 days. This helps ensure that cleared products include timely information and helps prevent "stale" products from being approved. However, regulatory projects and other agency priorities can affect timetables for completing guidance products. According to OSHA, the administration is now prioritizing standard setting, while pursuing meaningful guidance products. As a result, OSHA's Directorate of Standards and Guidance is redirecting resources to match this priority. Guidance product timelines will be affected by administration priorities. In 2011, OSHA implemented a process for reviewing its existing publications to ensure that they are accurate and reflect current agency policy. As an example of the implementation of this process, OSHA's Directorate of Cooperative and State Programs worked with the Directorate of Construction and the Office of Communications to establish a process for reviewing, and updating as necessary, OSHA's construction-related publications.

    Recommendation: The Assistant Secretary for OSHA and the Administrator of EPA should ensure that their key general policies and procedures for preparing communication products include, as appropriate, time frames or benchmarks to help ensure that products that the agencies have determined are needed are developed, reviewed, and disseminated in a timely manner.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor: Occupational Safety and Health Administration

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: As of March 27, 2012, EPA officials informed us that they believe they have appropriately responded to this recommendation. In their prior response, they essentially disagreed with our recommendation. EPA officials have previously stated that, while they agree that developing timely communication materials is important, the agency believes that it should be allowed the flexibility to divert its resources and to adjust its schedules from lower-priority projects to higher-priority projects when necessary. EPA also believes that the timeframes associated with the asbestos in brakes brochure was an "anomaly" and therefore, may not be a useful standard to compare with other cases. Finally, the Agency cautions that comparing the processes and products of one program office within EPA may not be reflective of the processes and products of an entire agency such as OSHA. EPA officials did not provide any additional information to state they had complied with this recommendation, and believe that they do not need to change their current policy.

    Recommendation: The Assistant Secretary for OSHA and the Administrator of EPA should ensure that their key general policies and procedures for preparing communication products include, as appropriate, time frames or benchmarks to help ensure that products that the agencies have determined are needed are developed, reviewed, and disseminated in a timely manner.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA agreed with this recommendation and provided the documentation needed to show that the agency had implemented it. (Contact the Director for additional information.)

    Recommendation: The Assistant Secretary for OSHA and the Administrator of EPA should take steps to ensure that their key general policies and procedures for preparing communication products are fully documented. To the extent feasible, this should include identifying the applicable policies and procedures governing OMB/interagency coordination and reviews of such products, as well as any other key processes that the agencies believe are important to understanding how they prepare their products.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA officials agree with the recommendation and on April 22, 2010, provided a link from the EPA web site that the agency says responds to this recommendation: http://www.epa.gov/productreview/archive/guide/index.html. This link refers to EPA's Policy and Implementation Guide for Communications Product Development and Approval that helps agency staff to "plan and create effective hardcopy and Web communications products. It provides a centralized approach to developing communications materials, as well as a database of communication materials planned for dissemination by the agency. This system is called the Product Review Tracking System (PROTRAC). A further update provide by EPA officials on March 27, 2012, informed us that individual program offices now enter planned communications projects into the database and manage them through the clearance process, which is overseen by the Office of Public Affairs. Individual program offices enter planned communications projects into the database and manage them through the clearance process, which is overseen by the Office of Public Affairs.

    Recommendation: The Assistant Secretary for OSHA and the Administrator of EPA should ensure that their agencies make public the key general policies and procedures for preparing communication products, including any updated in response to the previous recommendation.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EPA agrees with this recommendation and has a centralized approach to developing communications materials, as well as a database of communication materials planned for dissemination by the agency. This system is called the Product Review Tracking System (PROTRAC). Individual program offices enter planned communications projects into the database and manage them through the clearance process, which is overseen by the Office of Public Affairs. On April 22, 2010, agency officials provided a link from the EPA web site that responds to this recommendation: http://www.epa.gov/productreview/archive/guide/index.html. This link refers to EPA's Policy and Implementation Guide for Communications Product Development and Approval that helps agency staff to "plan and create effective hardcopy and Web communications products." In a March 2012 update on the status of this recommendation, EPA confirmed that it agreed with the recommendation and uses the PROTRAC system to track and manage its communication materials planned for dissemination.

    Recommendation: The Administrator of EPA should consider adopting for OPPTS--and other EPA offices, as appropriate--a centralized database or databases to more completely account for the inventory of communication materials disseminated by the agency.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: As of May 2011, OSHA officials had identified policies, guidance and other actions taken by the agency that, in combination, addressed this recommendation. OSHA officials stated that the agency supports the involvement of its Office of Communication (OC) in the development of a communications strategy for compliance assistance materials. In response to this recommendation and to improve coordination, OSHA expects that OC will work more closely with OSHA's Compliance Assistance Coordinating Group and the initiating office in planning, timing, and producing the product. OC would be able to recommend additional means of announcing the new material that may not be traditionally considered by the subject matter experts developing the products. If necessary, OC could distribute an interim statement or notice informing the employers and employees that an issue is currently under review or materials are being developed by OSHA and invite their input. By bringing in OC early in the process, the agency expects to be better positioned to develop a comprehensive communications plan to disseminate the information through various venues and then be responsible for effective follow-up. According to OSHA, the agency continues to publicize its compliance assistance products in a variety of ways. New Items are discussed in QuickTakes, OSHA's twice monthly e-news memo. Updates to the "New Compliance Assistance Products" page on OSHA's Compliance Assistance Web page cover new completed products. Quarterly e-mail alerts to OSHA's cooperative program participants discuss new compliance assistance materials and guidance products. Quarterly e-mail alerts to OSHA executives in the National and Regional Offices inform senior agency personnel of completed products and products in development. Updates on new compliance materials are provided by the National Office to OSHA's Regional Compliance Assistance Coordinators and State Plan representatives during quarterly Compliance Assistance conference calls. DSG works with OOC on a press release for every guidance product published. For example, in 2009, OOC, DSG and DTSEM collaborated with the DOL press office to plan and implement the rollout for five guidance products announced by the Secretary of Labor on Worker Memorial Day. As part of the actions taken by the administration in 2010 to pursue and implement an effective communications strategy for compliance assistance materials, the Office of Communications was directed to greatly expand the agency's stakeholder list and stakeholder outreach. Agency officials have used OSHA Listens event (an all-day public meeting to solicit comments and suggestions from OSHA stakeholders on key issues facing the agency), a Latino Summit, as well as increased stakeholder meetings and webchats, to develop and build an effective communications strategy for disseminating information about OSHA compliance assistance products.

    Recommendation: The Assistant Secretary for OSHA should augment existing OSHA directives on the preparation of SHIBs and other communication products to provide more guidance to OSHA staff on developing a communications strategy during the product development process (for example, to identify who the agency needs to inform of the product, how notification and dissemination will be done, and who will be responsible for specific notification and dissemination tasks).

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor: Occupational Safety and Health Administration

  7. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: As of May 2011, OSHA officials had identified policies, guidance and other actions taken by the agency that, in combination, addressed this recommendation. OSHA stated that the agency believes that its policies and procedures for preparing compliance assistance materials are fully documented in a series of directives. OSHA instruction IPC 01-00-006 "Safety and Health Compliance Assistance Products" builds on and establishes the procedure for all offices of the agency to obtain approval to develop OSHA safety and health compliance products and the procedures for developing, clearing, distributing and maintaining approved compliance assistance products. Also, OSHA Instruction CPL 2.65A "Safety and Health Information Bulletins" establishes the procedure for developing SHIBs, an information system to inform OSHA offices and the public of significant occupational safety and health issues concerning hazard recognition, evaluation and control in the workplace and at emergency response sites. Another directive, ADM 8-0.4 "Non-Policy Issuances" establishes OSHA's system for the management of the agency's supplementary guidance materials, including review and clearance. Finally, OSHA Instruction OFF 5-0.1A "Printing and Distribution of Publications" establishes the policy for printing and distributing OSHA publications. OSHA officials also stated that the agency is subject to departmentwide guidance "Procedures for Developing and Issuing Guidance Documents" and "Guidelines for Ensuring and Maximizing the Quality, Objectivity, Utility and Integrity of Information Disseminated by the Department of Labor." The agency is also subject to OMB's "Bulletin for Agency Good Guidance Practices." In its updates on this recommendation, the agency noted that it does appear that GAO's report and the regular CACG meetings have increased awareness of, and compliance with, the requirements. In summary, OSHA officials stated that all of their policies and procedures for preparing guidance and compliance documents are fully documented and available to the public on the Agency's website.

    Recommendation: The Assistant Secretary for OSHA and the Administrator of EPA should take steps to ensure that their key general policies and procedures for preparing communication products are fully documented. To the extent feasible, this should include identifying the applicable policies and procedures governing OMB/interagency coordination and reviews of such products, as well as any other key processes that the agencies believe are important to understanding how they prepare their products.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor: Occupational Safety and Health Administration

  8. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: OSHA agreed with this recommendation and provided the documentation needed to show that the agency had implemented it. (Contact the Director for additional information.)

    Recommendation: The Assistant Secretary for OSHA and the Administrator of EPA should ensure that their agencies make public the key general policies and procedures for preparing communication products, including any updated in response to the previous recommendation.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor: Occupational Safety and Health Administration

  9. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: As of May 2011, OSHA officials had identified policies, guidance and other actions taken by the agency that, in combination, addressed this recommendation. According to OSHA officials, the agency obtains public input from external parties through the development of compliance assistance materials. Section X(E) in the OSHA Instruction "Safety and Health Compliance Assistance Products" discusses soliciting input from external parties. It specifically states that when appropriate, the originating office may seek review by entities outside the agency and names recognized experts, state or federal agencies, professional organizations, and OSHA cooperative program participants as possible contributors. This Instruction encourages the inclusion of appropriate stakeholders from active OSHA Alliances. Also, there are instances where OSHA obtains public input from external parties under even more formal circumstances. In instances where OSHA reviews scientific information, the agency will seek information from parties that include trade associations, professional associations, labor organizations, the medical community, and individual businesses. In addition, information will be obtained from technical literature, OSHA's records, and settlement agreements. The public is also involved at several points in the development process. During the drafting of the document, agency officials conduct one-on-one meetings with representatives of major stakeholder groups. The purpose of these meetings is to gather the best available information on the hazards that are present in typical operations on practices, programs, and processes that have been successfully used in the particular industry or for specific tasks. These meetings also allow agency officials to ask for information or clarification regarding programs that they groups have developed. Finally, OSHA publishes a Federal Register notice that announces the availability of draft guidelines on the agency's Web site. The public is afforded a 30-day comment period. If there is enough public interest, the agency will conduct a stakeholder meeting. According to OSHA, the agency also solicits feedback from external parties during development and updating of its Safety and Health Topics pages and eTools. OSHA's Alliance Program participants and other external parties serve on the Editorial Board for many of OSHA's Safety and Health Topics Pages and eTools. The external parties provide industry-specific and subject matter expertise during the development of the pages and also provide comments after a page has been posted. Every 1-2 years, OSHA solicits feedback from Editorial Board members on updates to existing Safety and Health Topics pages and eTools. In 2010, according to OSHA officials, the agency expanded its outreach to stakeholder alliance participants and to vulnerable worker communities, widening its opportunities to solicit contribution from the public. The pertinent OSHA Directives have not been updated to add specific language directing OSHA staff to use outside contributors/public input where practical only because the need for updating the Directives has not been urgent. In the 2011 update on this recommendation, OSHA officials provided examples of its outreach to state agencies (e.g. the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration) and other federal agencies (e.g. NIOSH and NOAA). OSHA officials also stated that they leverage with other state and local partners, employers, trade organizations, unions, community groups, educational institutions and health care professionals to disseminate training materials and to educate workers and employers on the hazards of working under certain conditions. OSHA identified a new webpage on Injury and Illness Protection Programs (I2P2) as another example of increasing input from external parties for inclusion in its guidance materials.

    Recommendation: The Assistant Secretary for OSHA should augment existing OSHA directives on the preparation of Safety and Health Information Bulletins (SHIB) and other communication products to prompt OSHA staff to identify opportunities to solicit input from external parties, as practical, during the preparation of communication products.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor: Occupational Safety and Health Administration

 

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