Monday, August 10, 2015

OMB Approves CG Oil Spill Reporting ICR

On Friday the OMB’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) announced that it had approved the reinstatement of a Coast Guard information collection request (ICR) supporting both the reporting of oil or hazardous substance discharge, and reporting of suspicious maritime activity.

Lapsed ICR

Apparently the Coast Guard inadvertently allowed this ICR to lapse in February of 2012. Both the 60-day and the 30-day ICR notices in the Federal Register from earlier this year reported that the ICR was a renewal. And there is nothing in the Supporting Statement [.DOC download link] submitted to OIRA that indicates that the CG was aware that the ICR had expired.

Change in Burden Estimates

The table below shows the differences in the burden estimates between the previously approved ICR and the lasted version.

Burden Estimate
Change in Burden Estimate

The CG explained the drastic reduction in the number of responses this way in their submission document to OIRA:

“The change in burden is an ADJUSTMENT due to a change (i.e., decrease) in the number of NRC reports received by the Coast Guard.  It is unknown why we have seen a large decrease in the number of annual responses.  The reporting requirements, and the methodology for calculating burden, remain unchanged.  Additionally, the Coast Guard has revised the methods for submitting a report by eliminating the online option.  The upkeep of that method proved too costly.”

There was a reduction in burden estimate between the 2011 ICR and the ICR approved in 2008, but that change was only about 7%, not the almost 73% decrease reported in the latest CG data. Such a large decrease in reported spills means that either industry has made tremendous strides in reducing the number of spills that it is experiencing or there has been a decrease in the rate of reporting of spills that are occurring. More than likely it is some combination of the two.

Cybersecurity Issue

The CG did report on programmatic change that may have an impact on the reporting rate. In the quote above the CG noted that it had eliminated the online reporting option for this ICR. The reason for that change was described in a little more detail earlier in the submission document:

“The NRC online submission option was eliminated in February 2014 following a security breach.  The online submission website was built in the 1990s, and does not meet modern security standards.  At this time, the NRC does not have the funds necessary to build a modern, functional, and secure site.”

A footnote to that statement notes that in the last full year of on-line reporting those reports only accounted for about 10% of the NRC reports submitted.


A drastic change (and a 74% reduction in spills is nothing short of miraculous if true) in spill reporting numbers must be investigated. It is not acceptable to dismiss a 74% reduction in spill reports with just the brief comment that: “It is unknown why we have seen a large decrease in the number of annual responses.”

Now I understand that OIRA is an administrative body that would have nothing to do with the actual investigation of why there is such a drastic change in spill reporting. So may be the Coast Guard is actually conducting such an investigation and just did not feel that it was necessary to mention that investigation in their submission data to OIRA. I am surprised, however, that OIRA accepted this dramatic change in reporting burden without more justification.

Likewise, I am concerned that OIRA did not demand at least a cursory explanation of why the Coast Guard had allowed this ICR to lapse for almost two years before submitting this ICR revision. The NRC is a vital part of a major environmental response program and while this ICR does not actually effect the operation of that program failure to keep the ICR up to date reflects poorly on the management of the program and begs the question of what other programmatic issues exist.

Finally I sympathize with the Coast Guard discovering security issues with an on-line reporting program designed in the 90’s. Cutting off that reporting process due to lack of funds does seem very short sighted. Looking at the last two Coast Guard authorization bills (and Committee Reports supporting those bills) I have seen nothing that would indicate that Congress has been informed of this problem. If they have been informed and they have been ignoring the problem this is a political problem that should be addressed. If they have not been repeatedly made aware of this problem than shame on the Coast Guard and the Secretary of DHS.

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