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PHMSA Has Improved Its Workforce Management but Planning, Hiring, and Retention Challenges Remain

Mandated by the Protecting our Infrastructure of Pipelines and Enhancing Safety (PIPES) Act
Project ID: 
ST2018010

What We Looked At

Safety oversight of the Nation’s aging pipeline infrastructure is an ongoing public concern. The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration’s (PHMSA) Office of Pipeline Safety (OPS), along with State inspectors, administers the Department’s national regulatory program to ensure the safe transportation of natural gas, petroleum, and other hazardous liquids by pipeline. In 2016, a Congressional Research Service (CRS) report highlighted a long-term pattern of understaffing at OPS. Enacted shortly afterward, the Protecting our Infrastructure of Pipelines and Enhancing Safety (PIPES) Act of 2016 directed us to review PHMSA’s management of its workforce.

What We Found

PHMSA has not updated its workforce plan since 2005. Because of this, the Agency cannot be sure that it has adequately aligned its resources to meet its mission or identified current and future staffing opportunities and constraints. In addition, PHMSA does not fully take advantage of monetary employee retention incentives allowed under Office of Personnel Management (OPM) guidelines, and may have lost opportunities to retain the most qualified staff. PHMSA, however, is taking actions to improve its hiring practices and the way it integrates new staff, for example, by upgrading its training program.

Industry-specific conditions, rather than macroeconomic factors, have created recruitment challenges for PHMSA. Our economic analysis confirmed a significant salary gap between private industry and Federal salaries, resulting in strong competition with the industry. Special hiring authority, such as direct-hire authority, may not provide PHMSA the tools it needs in a competitive environment driven by salary. OPM, however, has the authority to establish higher rates of basic pay to help agencies address these recruiting and retention challenges.

Our Recommendations

PHMSA concurred with our three recommendations to improve its workforce management practices and proposed appropriate action plans.

Recommendations

Open

Closed

Closed on 03.13.2019
No. 1 to PHMSA

Develop a comprehensive workforce plan by implementing the existing Human Capital Framework in accordance with the Department's Workforce Planning Guide.

Closed on 03.13.2019
No. 2 to PHMSA

Include in the workforce plan an assessment of whether the Agency should use retention incentives and, if appropriate, a plan for seeking authority to use retention incentives at levels above the fiscal year 2010 cap.

No. 3 to PHMSA

Include in the workforce plan an assessment of whether the Agency should use a special rate of pay for general engineers (series 0801) and, if appropriate, a plan for seeking authority to establish a higher rate of basic pay.