GAO: Commerce falling behind on conflict minerals

The Commerce Department is falling behind when it comes to identifying facilities that process “conflict minerals,” according to a government study.

The Government Accountability Office reported Thursday that while the Securities and Exchange Commission, State Department, and U.S. Agency of International Development (USAID) have all taken steps to establish new rules policing the flow of such minerals, the Commerce Department was not holding up its end of the deal.

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Rather, the government watchdog determined that that department has yet to identify all the facilities that process the problematic minerals, such as smelters and refiners, as was legally required by the beginning of 2013.

The Dodd-Frank financial reform law included a provision that required companies to track down and identify whether any of their products include minerals that have played a central role in violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Companies that rely on minerals like tin, gold, tantalum or tungsten would have to file reports with the government detailing their efforts to track down the source of their minerals, and where they came from.

Originally, the law required the SEC to force companies to publicly disclose whether they relied on conflict minerals, but a D.C. Circuit Court ruled in April that that part of the law violated the First Amendment. Regulators are vowing to follow through with the rest of the requirements though.

The GAO found that the Commerce Department had difficulty compiling a list of all facilities with conflict mineral ties. Furthermore, the department did not have a detailed plan for how they would complete that work, over a year and half after it was due. The GAO recommended that the department establish a specific timeline to finish the work and provide that plan to Congress.

“In its latest report, the GAO was right to reveal that the Department of Commerce has fallen short of fulfilling its obligations to support the conflict minerals and recommend they establish an action plan,” said Holly Dranginis, policy associate for the Enough Project, an initiative under the Center for American Progress focused on genocide and crimes against humanity.

In its response to the GAO’s findings, the Commerce Department said it encountered “significant challenges” in compiling the list, and lacked the proper staff for the work when Dodd-Frank was enacted. The department agreed that a detailed action plan would be a good next step.