PHMSA Is Establishing Controls for Technical Assistance Grants but Needs To Improve Its Award and Oversight Processes
The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration’s (PHMSA) Pipeline Safety Technical Assistance Grant (TAG) program provides funds to improve the safety of communities located near pipeline facilities. With these funds, communities and nonprofit organizations can acquire engineering and other scientific analysis of pipeline issues and promote public participation in official pipeline proceedings. However, Congress has prohibited grant recipients from using TAG funds for lobbying, direct support of litigation, or direct advocacy for or against a pipeline project.
Between fiscal years 2009 and 2015, PHMSA awarded 166 grants—totaling about $7.7 million—to 127 grantees. TAG projects have included improvements to safe digging programs and the purchase of leak detectors to help communities identify releases of methane from pipelines. Grants did not exceed $50,000 to any single recipient prior to fiscal year 2015.
The Protecting Our Infrastructure of Pipelines and Enhancing Safety Act of 2016 required us to assess the TAG program’s compliance with grant agreements and evaluate the TAG awards process as well as PHMSA’s ability to oversee TAG funding. We reviewed nine grantees, and while we did not identify any instances where they used TAG funds to conduct activities disallowed by Congress, PHMSA’s policy and procedures do not require Agency staff to follow up on alleged misuses of program funds. Accordingly, we made three recommendations to PHMSA to improve its management of the TAG program, including its oversight of prohibited activities. PHMSA concurred with all three recommendations and proposed appropriate actions and completion dates.