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PHMSA Is Establishing Controls for Technical Assistance Grants but Needs To Improve Its Award and Oversight Processes

Mandated by the Protecting Our Infrastructure of Pipelines and Enhancing Safety Act of 2016
Project ID: 

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.




Closed on 03.29.2018
No. 1 to PHMSA

Finalize the Agency's grants management manual and include controls to document that all grant management steps have been accomplished before a grant is awarded or closed, as well as steps to address alleged prohibited uses of Technical Assistance Grant funds.

Closed on 09.11.2017
No. 2 to PHMSA

Finalize the Technical Assistance Grant program's Business Process Documentation.

Closed on 08.31.2017
No. 3 to PHMSA

Revise the grant agreement template for Technical Assistance Grants to include the statutory language prohibition against using program funds for direct advocacy.