Watchdog piles on criticism of offshore drilling regulator

Watchdog piles on criticism of offshore drilling regulator

A watchdog is alleging numerous problems at the federal government’s offshore drilling regulator, including in its inspection and environmental stewardship programs.

A new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) is the latest on the Interior Department’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) from Congress’s watchdog, which previously identified problems ranging from revenue collection to employee retention and organizational restructuring.

BSEE was created in 2011 as part of the reorganization of offshore drilling oversight following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster at a BP-operated well.

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Since its creation, GAO has issued numerous reports finding deficiencies at the agency, which largely revolve around significant leadership problems and communication problems with lower-level employees.

“Leadership seems to be a continual problem at BSEE since its formation after the Deepwater Horizon incident,” Rep. Blake FarentholdRandolph (Blake) Blake FarentholdConyers attorney: Congressman won't pay settlement back because it was 'cleared' Farenthold accuser: 'It's been a tough road’ Accuser says GOP lawmaker 'blackballed' her from finding another job after settling sexual harassment suit MORE (R-Texas), chairman of the House Oversight Committee subpanel with authority over Interior, said at a Tuesday hearing on the report.

“The GAO has found a disconnect — and more importantly, a distrust — between BSEE headquarters and its region,” he said. “This distrust has caused significant duplication and reduced the agency’s efficiency.”

The watchdog in its Tuesday report concluded that BSEE has made “limited progress” in the last five years in implementing reforms in how it oversees offshore safety and environmental compliance, including developing a “risk-based” approach to drilling inspections.

“Without establishing a mechanism for BSEE management to obtain and incorporate input from bureau personnel and any external parties, such as Argonne [National Laboratory], that can affect the bureau’s ability to achieve its objectives, BSEE’s risk-based inspection program is likely to experience continued delays and implementation problems,” GAO said of the inspection program."

On the environmental program, BSEE implemented two programs to reduce environmental risk, but they were both overlapping and ineffective, GAO found.

Richard Cardinale, Interior’s acting assistant secretary for land and minerals, told the House panel that the agency takes the challenges seriously.

“We appreciate that BSEE still faces challenges internally in how it develops and communicates management initiatives,” he said.

“During the past 5.5 years, BSEE has taken many constructive steps toward creating a stable and mature organization, while continuing to carry out its mission-critical goals of promoting safety, environmental responsibility and resource conservation on the outer continental shelf.”

Cardinale said that of the numerous GAO and internal Inspector General reports since BSEE’s formation, the agency has completed dozens of recommendations.