Inspector Generals questioned by House Science Committee's Oversight Subcommittee

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Publication date: 
8 April 2013

A March 14 Subcommittee on Oversight hearing was the second in a series of hearings aimed at reviewing management and performance challenges within the agencies under the jurisdiction of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee.  Members heard from the Inspector Generals (IG) from the Department of Energy (DOE), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Interior (DOI) regarding performance and management challenges faced by each agency.  The Reports Consolidation Act requires agency IGs to file reports that identify agency challenges; these are then used to assess their progress and efforts to resolve these issues.

Subcommittee Chairman Paul Broun (R-GA) opened the hearing by highlighting ongoing issues within the DOE, EPA and DOI.  At the DOE, he was concerned about the lack of improvement in the financial management of the Clean Cities projects and Transportation Electrification efforts.  Within the EPA, Broun noted that the Committee “always [has] questions about their actions and decisions” as he described the Integrated Risk Information System as a perennial discussion topic and his concerns about Alaska’s Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment. 

Broun also discussed the track record for the Department of Interior’s incorporation of science into their decisions.  Broun views “scientific integrity as a fundamental challenge facing the Agency moving forward.  This challenge affects the use of federal lands, Endangered Species Act listings that influence property owners, and countless other important national interests tied to resources and wildlife.” 

Subcommittee Ranking Member Dan Maffei (D-NY) described the difficulty of the IGs job as he noted that each of the witnesses “works hard to produce meaningful audits, carry forward criminal investigations and produce thoughtful reports that provide perspective on management challenges” even if the Science Committee does “not always agree with their conclusions or life the implications of what they find.”   He was particularly interested in learning whether budget cuts due to sequestration, which occurred in the middle of this fiscal year, “may be producing potential waste and unanticipated costs.”  Maffei wanted witnesses to provide insights into how their agencies were adapting to sequestration cuts in a cost-effective manner. 

Gregory Friedman, Inspector General of the Department of Energy focused on management challenges including: “operational efficiency and cost savings, contract and financial assistance award management, cyber security, energy supply, environmental cleanup, human capital management, nuclear waste disposal, safeguards and security, and stockpile stewardship.”  DOE has also developed a watch list of emerging issues and “items that warrant special attention.”  This list includes: “infrastructure modernization, loan guarantee program, and worker and community safety.”   He highlighted that “these challenges are integral to the department’s mission, they are not amenable to immediate resolution, and they can only be addressed through a concerted effort over time.” 

Friedman concentrated on the most pressing concern, sustaining DOE operations in an austere budget environment.  He outlined management challenge reports used to provide the DOE with suggested actions for operational improvements and cost reduction initiatives.  Those actions included applying information from quadrennial reviews to the DOE science portfolio, eliminating duplicative functions at the National Nuclear Security Administration, and the use of a Department of Defense style commission to evaluate alignment of laboratories and complexes. 

Arthur Elkins Jr., Inspector General of the Environmental Protection Agency listed five management challenges including: “oversight of delegations to states, safe reuse of contaminated sites, limited capability to respond to cyber security attacks, EPA framework for assessing and managing chemical risks, and workforce planning.”  He focused primarily on the issue of implementing EPA programs at the state level and noted that “state enforcement programs frequently do not meet national goals and states do not always take necessary enforcement actions.” 

Mary Kendall, Deputy Inspector General for the Department of the Interior identified top management and performance challenges at DOI as “energy management, climate change, water programs, responsibility to Indians and Insular areas, Cobell and Indian land consolidation, and operation efficiencies.”  She stated that these challenges were identified and used to plan the audit and evaluation work for FY 2013.  Examples of areas subject to review include coastal impact assistance program, mineral sales, underground injection controls, offshore renewable energy and gas permitting and pipeline management.    

Following testimony from the panel of witnesses, Broun stated that Kendall “refused to comply with congressional subpoena and obstructed at least two congressional committees inquiries” about the Deepwater Horizon Offshore Drilling Moratorium report.  He questioned whether the Committee could trust her collaborative, rather than independent, work with DOI in determining the top management challenges at the agency.  Broun then turned to Friedman to discussed decisions made about nuclear waste management as he questioned the Obama Administration’s actions regarding the Yucca Mountain project.

Maffei began his questions by asking each IG to comment on the effects that sequestration has had on each of their offices.  Friedman stated that his department was unable to attend a required training meeting and that there will be a hiring freeze.  Elkins echoed Friedman stating that his department is also limiting travel and training and added that there is a missing opportunity cost because the IG community produces a return on investments.   Kendall stated that there were significant effects in her office. 

The discussions in the later part of the hearing were productive and served to address issues affecting the agencies as well as the districts of the members on the subcommittee.  Both sides of the aisle were interested in specific investigations and budgetary issues.  While there were occasionally disagreements about funding levels, members of the subcommittee were interested in understanding the process of investigating and examining issues at each agency.