Interior Added to GAO High-Risk List
Policy + Politics

Interior Added to GAO High-Risk List

Concerns about how the Interior Department manages the nation's oil and gas resources have earned it a spot on a closely watched list of the government's most at-risk offices and programs.

After last year's Gulf Coast oil spill, the department might be unable to manage oil and gas leases while overhauling the agencies and offices responsible for them, according to the Government Accountability Office's biennial "High-Risk Report."

The nonpartisan investigative agency's 177-page study is a way for federal watchdogs, lawmakers and the Obama administration to track the agencies and programs requiring special attention in the next two years.

The GAO publishes the report at the start of each new congressional session. Congress's main oversight panels, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, are to unveil the report Wednesday. The Washington Post obtained a copy from congressional aides.

Investigations published since the spill in April fault Interior's Bureau of Land Management and the former Minerals Management Service for failing to collect proper revenue from the sale of oil and gas leases and for not properly managing the agreements. The department has ignored many of the more than 50 recommendations issued by the GAO in recent years regarding BLM and MMS, according to the report.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar dissolved the MMS last year and divided its responsibilities between the new Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement and the Office of Natural Resource Revenue. The offices will require new employees with specific knowledge of oil and gas issues who might find more lucrative offers in the private sector, the GAO said.

"It's better late than never, but it shouldn't have taken the worst ecological disaster in history for GAO to place this program onto the high risk list," said Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight Committee, who spent years tracking concerns with the MMS.

Interior Department spokeswoman Kendra Barkoff said the ongoing overhaul "has dramatically increased safety standards and oversight of the oil and gas industry." The reorganization has occurred "as planned and without disruption," she said.

In previous years, the GAO has warned of mismanagement of federal student aid programs, problems with the Environmental Protection Agency's Superfund program and the government's lack of preparation for the potential Y2K computer crisis. Auditors remove items from the list once they think Congress, the White House and the responsible agency have sufficiently addressed them.

Read more at The Washington Post.