Priority Open Recommendations: Department of the Interior

What GAO Found

In April 2020, GAO identified 10 priority recommendations for the Department of the Interior. Since then, Interior has implemented 5 of those recommendations by, among other things, taking steps to identify and evaluate offshore oil and gas drilling risks and improving regional coordination among federal partners to address energy and mineral issues.

In June 2021, GAO identified 8 additional priority recommendations for Interior, bringing the total number to 13. These recommendations involve the following areas:

  • improving oversight of offshore oil and gas activities;
  • taking action to ensure safety, health, and services at Bureau of Indian Education schools;
  • improving Bureau of Indian Affairs’ management of energy development on Indian lands;
  • reducing factors that hinder tribal administration of federal programs; and
  • addressing Micronesia and the Marshall Islands’ transition to trust fund income.

Interior’s continued attention to these issues could lead to significant improvements in government operations.

Why GAO Did This Study

Priority open recommendations are the GAO recommendations that warrant priority attention from heads of key departments or agencies because their implementation could save large amounts of money; improve congressional and/or executive branch decision-making on major issues; eliminate mismanagement, fraud, and abuse; or ensure that programs comply with laws and funds are legally spent, among other benefits. Since 2015, GAO has sent letters to selected agencies to highlight the importance of implementing such recommendations.

For more information, contact Mark Gaffigan at (202) 512-3841 or gaffiganm@gao.gov.

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    The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) estimated cleanup and restoration across the agency would cost $1.9 billion as of fiscal year 2020, up from $1.7 billion in fiscal year 2019. This reflects an increase of $724 million, or 61 percent, from 2014. NASA identified contamination at 14 centers around the country, as of 2019. Five of the 14 centers decreased their environmental liabilities from 2014 to 2019, but liability growth at the other centers offset those decreases and contributed to the net increase in environmental liabilities. Santa Susana Field Laboratory, California, had about $502 million in environmental liabilities growth during this period (see fig.). Nearly all this growth resulted from California soil cleanup requirements that NASA did not anticipate. These NASA Centers Reported Increases or Decreases in Restoration Project Environmental Liabilities Greater Than $10 Million Between Fiscal Years 2014 and 2019 NASA's reported fiscal year 2019 environmental liabilities estimate for restoration projects does not include certain costs, and some factors may affect NASA's future environmental liabilities, potentially increasing or decreasing the federal government's fiscal exposure. Certain costs are not included in the fiscal year 2019 estimate because some projects are in a developing stage where NASA needs to gather more information to fully estimate cleanup costs. Further, NASA limits its restoration project estimates to 30 years, as the agency views anything beyond 30 years as not reasonably estimable. Sixty of NASA's 115 open restoration projects in fiscal year 2019 are expected to last longer than 30 years. With regard to factors that could affect future environmental liabilities, NASA is assessing its centers for contamination of some chemicals it had not previously identified but does not yet know the impact associated cleanup will have on the agency's liabilities in part because standards for cleaning up these chemicals do not yet exist. New cleanup requirements for emerging contaminants could increase NASA's environmental liabilities and create additional fiscal exposure for the federal government. Additionally, NASA is committed, through an agreement with the state of California, to clean soil at Santa Susana Field Laboratory to a certain standard, but the agency issued a decision in September 2020 to pursue a risk-based cleanup standard, which the state of California has opposed. According to NASA, a risk-based cleanup standard at Santa Susana Field Laboratory could decrease NASA's environmental liabilities and reduce the federal government's fiscal exposure by about $355 million. Decades of NASA's research for space exploration relied on some chemicals that can be hazardous to human health and the environment. NASA identified 14 centers around the country with hazardous chemicals that require environmental cleanup and restoration. NASA's Environmental Compliance and Restoration Program oversees the agency's environmental cleanup. NASA's environmental liabilities estimate is reported annually in the agency's financial statement. Federal accounting standards require agencies responsible for contamination to estimate and report their future cleanup costs when they are both probable and reasonably estimable. This report describes (1) NASA's environmental liabilities for restoration projects from fiscal years 2014 to 2019—the most recent data available at the time of our review—and (2) factors that could contribute to uncertainties in NASA's current or future environmental liabilities. GAO reviewed NASA financial statements, guidance, and other relevant reports and interviewed NASA officials from headquarters and three centers, selected because of changes in their reported liabilities. NASA provided technical comments on a draft of this report, which were incorporated as appropriate. For more information, contact Allison Bawden at (202) 512-3841 or bawdena@gao.gov.
    [Read More…]
  • Owner of Tax Preparation Business Sentenced to Prison for Filing False Returns
    In Crime News
    A former Gulfport, Mississippi, tax return preparer was sentenced to 46 months in prison today for aiding and assisting in the preparation of false returns, announced Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Richard E. Zuckerman of the Justice Department’s Tax Division and U.S. Attorney Mike Hurst for the Southern District of Mississippi.
    [Read More…]
  • Appointment of Ambassador Philip Reeker as Chargé d’Affaires at Embassy London
    In Crime Control and Security News
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    In Crime Control and Security News
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    In Travel
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  • Justice Department Settles Claim Against California-Based Staffing Company for Favoring Temporary Visa Workers Over U.S. Workers
    In Crime News
    The Department of Justice announced today that it signed a settlement agreement with AllianceIT, a provider of IT staffing services based in Pleasanton, California. This is the tenth settlement under the Civil Rights Division’s Protecting U.S. Workers Initiative, which is aimed at targeting, investigating, and taking enforcement actions against companies that discriminate against U.S. workers in favor of temporary foreign visa workers.
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  • Federal Court Orders North Carolina Pharmacy, Pharmacy Owner, and Pharmacist-in-Charge to Pay More Than $1 Million and Stop Dispensing Opioids
    In Crime News
    A federal court in the Eastern District of North Carolina entered a consent judgment and injunction requiring a North Carolina pharmacy, Seashore Drugs Inc., its owner, John D. Waggett, and its pharmacist-in-charge, Billy W. King II, to pay $1,050,000.00 in civil penalties and to cease dispensing opioids or other controlled substances, the Department of Justice announced.
    [Read More…]
  • As COVID-19 Cases Fall, Juries Get Back to Work
    In U.S Courts
    As coronavirus (COVID-19) case totals continue to decline in the United States, federal courts are rapidly expanding the number of jury trials and other in-person proceedings.
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    In Human Health, Resources and Services
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  • The United States Designates Houthi Militants
    In Crime Control and Security News
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    In Travel
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  • Syria Sanctions Designations on the Anniversary of Assad’s Attack Against the People of Douma, Syria
    In Crime Control and Security News
    Michael R. Pompeo, [Read More…]
  • 2019 END Wildlife Trafficking Report
    In Climate - Environment - Conservation
    Bureau of Oceans and [Read More…]
  • 6 Things to Know About NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter
    In Space
    The first helicopter [Read More…]