At Loggerheads? GAO Says CSB Must Have Chemical Accident Reporting Rule

The U.S. Government Accountability Office is recommending that the Chemical Safety Board publish a regulation requiring facilities to report all chemical accidents to better inform CSB of important details about accidents that it may not receive from current sources. Furthermore, GAO says that the CSB's authorizing statute actually requires such a regulation.

Although it has not committed to having a reporting regulation, CSB has said it will publish in the Federal Register a Request for Information (RFI) concerning adoption of such a regulation, presenting various options for rulemaking and seeking the views and opinions of stakeholders regarding the best path forward. GAO says it is encouraged by the RFI plan; however, it maintains that the request for information does not in itself provide assurance that CSB will follow through and issue a regulation as required by statute.

CSB has contended that a reporting regulation is not needed for the narrow purpose of notifying the board of major accidents warranting the deployment of investigators. The agency adds that, given the limited number of investigations it can conduct, it learns what it needs to know simply from monitoring the media and from reports from other agencies.

Disagreeing with CSB's view that a reporting regulation is not needed, GAO maintains that the board is legally required to promulgate such a regulation, saying it will allow CSB to obtain more accurate, complete information to meet its statutory mandate. GAO notes that CSB's accident database is not just for selection of accidents to investigate, it also is used to report to Congress and serves as a historical record of information on chemical accidents that could be used to identify trends and patterns in chemical accidents and prevent future accidents.

GAO also made several other recommendations to CSB, saying the agency 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;
  • 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;
  • Improve the quality of its accident-screening database by better controlling data entry and periodically sampling accident data to evaluate their consistency and completeness;
  • 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 board's ability to meet it statutory mandates over time; and
  • 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 board in its goal of improving its human capital and infrastructure.

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