Chemical Safety Board:

Improvements in Management and Oversight Are Needed

GAO-08-864R: Published: Aug 22, 2008. Publicly Released: Aug 22, 2008.

Additional Materials:

Contact:

David C. Trimble
(202) 512-6225
contact@gao.gov

 

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800
youngc1@gao.gov

The principal role of the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) is to investigate accidental releases of regulated or extremely hazardous substances to determine the conditions and circumstances that led to the accident and to identify the cause or causes so that similar accidents might be prevented. Accidental releases of these toxic and hazardous chemicals occur frequently and often have serious consequences. CSB reported to Congress that the agency received notification of approximately 900 chemical accidents in calendar year 2007, and that 31 of these accidents were serious or even fatal events that warranted the commitment of CSB investigators. CSB began operating in 1998 as an independent agency created under the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990. The act directs CSB to (1) investigate and report on the cause or probable cause of any accidental chemical releases from stationary sources resulting in a fatality, serious injury, or substantial property damages; (2) make recommendations to reduce the likelihood or consequences of accidental chemical releases and propose corrective measures; and (3) establish regulations for reporting accidental releases. The agency publishes investigative reports and issues safety studies and videos to help prevent future accidents. Congress modeled CSB after the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), which has a similar public safety mission. Like NTSB, CSB has no enforcement authority and a limited regulatory role. As outlined in the authorizing statute, CSB is to be managed by a five-member board. Currently the board has one vacancy. CSB received an appropriation of $9.4 million for fiscal year 2008 and had 39 staff as of January 30, 2008.

CSB has implemented some GAO and IG recommendations related to improving its operating policies and procedures since we last reported in July 2000. However, we found that CSB has not fully addressed several critical recommendations, and problems in governance, management, and oversight persist. Specifically, CSB has not fully responded to key recommendations related to investigating more accidents that meet statutory requirements triggering CSB's responsibility to investigate, improving the quality of its accident data, resolving human capital problems, and ensuring accountability and continuity of management. In our view, independent oversight from an existing IG remains the most effective way to help CSB address its continuing problems, provided that the arrangement is made permanent and funding is provided to the IG for the function.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Matters for Congressional Consideration

    Matter: Congress may wish to consider amending CSB's authorizing statute or the Inspector General Act of 1978 to permanently give Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Inspector General the authority to serve as the oversight body for the agency.

    Status: Open

    Comments: Congress has not taken action.

    Matter: As Congress prepares the appropriation of the EPA Inspector General, it may wish to consider providing the Inspector General with appropriations and staff allocations specifically for the audit function of CSB via a direct line in the EPA appropriation.

    Status: Open

    Comments: Congress has not taken action.

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: The Chairman of the Chemical Safety Board should develop a plan to address the investigative gap and request the necessary resources from Congress to meet CSB's statutory mandate or seek an amendment to its statutory mandate.

    Agency Affected: Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) agrees that an investigative gap, as described in our August 2008 report, exists. However, the CSB believes that the statutory mandate for CSB investigation is so broad that the CSB would likely never receive enough money from the Congress to meet it. Therefore, CSB has developed and is implementing a plan to close the investigative gap. As part of this plan, CSB has taken the following actions: In November 2009, CSB sent a letter to the House and Senate Authorizing committees and the House and Senate Appropriations committees requesting that Congress provide clarification or amendment to its statutory mandate as recommended by GAO. In fiscal year 2009, CSB established its first regional office in Denver, Colorado. The Denver Office is now staffed with a five-person investigative team to more quickly respond to accidents that occur in the West and Midwest. In addition, CSB has been able to more easily recruit and retain investigators than it has in its Washington, DC office. Since CSB believes that the regional office approach is a key method to decrease the investigative gap, CSB is requesting funds in its FY 2011 budget request to open a (second) five-person investigative office in Houston, Texas.

    Recommendation: The Chairman of the Chemical Safety Board should consider using the work of other entities, such as government agencies, companies, and contractors (subject to an assessment of the quality of their work), to a greater extent to maximize the board's limited resources.

    Agency Affected: Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: CSB has updated its operating procedures and directed investigators to use the work of others to a greater extent than in the past as another way to reduce the investigative gap. In addition, CSB has requested funding in its Fiscal Year 2011 budget request to establish a new three-person investigative team that will be primarily focused on conducting short-term investigations or assessments by using the work of other emergency responders.

    Recommendation: The Chairman of the Chemical Safety Board should improve the quality of its accident-screening database by better controlling data entry and periodically sampling accident data to evaluate their consistency and completeness.

    Agency Affected: Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: CSB hired a full-time incident screener to provide daily accident screening, identification, follow up with first responders and other sources of information on chemical accidents, implemented a new more secure electronic document and records management system that includes data entry controls and auditing features, and implemented additional management controls over the incident screening process.

    Recommendation: The Chairman of the Chemical Safety Board should publish a regulation requiring facilities to report all chemical accidents, as required by law, to better inform the agency of important details about accidents that it may not receive from current sources.

    Agency Affected: Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board

    Status: Open

    Comments: The Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB)agreed with the recommendation and has taken steps to develop and implement an accident reporting rule. In June 2009, CSB published an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking (74 FR 30259, June 25, 2009) seeking comment on how best to proceed with implementing this requirement. CSB will then use these comments to develop a proposed and then final rule. As of August 2010, CSB is evaluating the content and cost of implementing the proposed rule. CSB informed the Congress in its FY 2011 budget justification that implementing and enforcing the reporting rule may have significant long-term budget impacts and the CSB will inform the Congress and OMB about the estimated cost when the rule is proposed and posted in the federal register.

    Recommendation: The Chairman of the Chemical Safety Board should consider reinstating the position of chief operating officer, with delegations of responsibility for establishing performance goals, holding program mangers accountable for meeting those goals, and demonstrating improvement in the agency's ability to meet it statutory mandates over time.

    Agency Affected: Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In September 2010, CSB created the new position of managing director with responsibility for all aspects of CSB operations.

    Recommendation: The Chairman of the Chemical Safety Board should use the Strategic Management of Human Capital portion of the President's Management Agenda to provide criteria for developing a comprehensive human capital plan, with input from investigators that includes specific objectives and performance measures to improve accountability for results and to assist the agency in its goal of improving its human capital and infrastructure.

    Agency Affected: Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In October 2009, CSB developed its first Human Capital Plan and accompanying Human Capital Accountability System.

    Aug 11, 2014

    Jul 28, 2014

    Jul 16, 2014

    Jul 15, 2014

    Jul 9, 2014

    Jun 30, 2014

    Jun 16, 2014

    May 22, 2014

    May 21, 2014

    May 19, 2014

    Looking for more? Browse all our products here