GAO faults feds on key response to BP spill

the hillThe Hill | October 31, 2016 | Timothy Cama

The Interior Department isn’t doing sufficient work to track whether a key response to the 2010 BP oil spill is working, government auditors said.

At issue are changes to improve hiring and retention for key staff supervising oil and natural gas drilling activities at the three agencies that oversee drilling on federal land and offshore: the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement and the Bureau of Land Management.

While Interior has taken steps to increase salaries and benefits and cut down on hiring time for the workers, “the department has not evaluated the effectiveness of this compensation in resolving its hiring and retention challenges,” the Government Accountability Office (GAO) wrote in a report released publicly Monday.

Nonetheless, the department believes its changes have been helpful.

“Officials from the three bureaus said that these efforts to increase the compensation paid to key oil and gas staff, along with the industry downturn that reduced private sector hiring, had likely helped them fill vacancies,” the GAO wrote.

But auditors said that isn’t enough, and Interior should follow standard government practices for tracking the effectiveness of the changes.

“In the absence of these evaluations, Interior cannot determine the extent to which the tools it is using are effective in meeting its goals of hiring and retaining key staff or whether it is expending funds on tools that are not the best use of its limited resources,” they wrote.

Interior tried in recent years to improve hiring and retention, stemming in part from lessons learned from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the worst environmental disaster in United States history.

The department’s main competition for these oil and gas employees is the industry itself, and officials believe it is important to keep salaries and other conditions that are competitive.

Certain oil and gas staffers started getting special salary increases, incentives and student loan repayments in 2012, and over the last four years, Congress has allowed the agencies to pay some staffers as much as 25 percent more than they could usually get.

But as the industry inevitably recovers from its historic downturn in the coming years, GAO said officials are worried it will again gain a hiring edge.

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