Saturday, December 5, 2015

OMB Approves Revised PHMSA Pipeline Accident Reporting ICR

On Thursday the OMB’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) reported that it had approved the revised information collection request for the Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration’s (PHMSA) Transportation of Hazardous Liquids by Pipeline: Record keeping and Accident Reporting program. The revision was required because of some changes in the instructions on the PHMSA F 7000-1 [.PDF Download] Accident Report – Hazardous Liquid Pipeline Systems form. There were no changes made to the burden estimates on the ICR.

This was the fifth revision of this ICR in the last five years.

Modified Instructions

Changes were made to the instructions for the following questions in Part A of the form:

• Question 9 - “volume of commodity released unintentionally” clarification; and
• Question 11, “volume of commodity recovered” clarification

A complete explanation for the clarifications involved can be found in the Supporting Statement [Word download] submitted to OIRA. The intent of the changes appears to be to reduce the reporting of the amount of liquid that was not actually involved in the pipeline accident.

Short Extension

PHMSA had requested a 36 month extension of the ICR date along with reporting these changes; this is the typical length of an ICR approval. OIRA, however, only approved a one-year extension. The reason for the short extension is that OIRA directed DOT to look into combining this ICR with the Federal Railroad Administration’s (FRA) ICR for train accident reporting as well as other PHMSA hazardous material accident reporting ICRs. The ‘Terms of Clearance’ section of the ICR approval explains:

“DOT is asked to provide OMB by no later than the date this approval expires one of the following: a joint PHMSA-FRA plan, coordinated with OST, to create a single system for electronically reporting accident information involving trains, pipelines, and hazardous materials and eliminates duplicative reporting requirements and redundant agency IT systems to the extent feasible OR a joint PHMSA-FRA report, coordinated with OST, indicating the reasons why developing such a plan is neither consistent with the PRA’s purposes nor otherwise in the public’s interest, the process used to arrive at this conclusion, and the extent public stakeholders were consulted. As part of the plan, PHMSA and FRA may explore whether additional or modified information should be collected to improve execution of agency missions and the utility of the information collected, consistent with the PRA. OMB plans to add these terms of clearance to all relevant PHMSA and FRA accident reporting collections, as appropriate.”


The point of the whole ICR process is to reduce the burden on the reporting public by ensuring that only the information necessary for the legitimate needs of Federal Agencies is collected from the public and that it is done in the least burdensome method possible. While there is a certain amount of overlap between PHMSA and each of the modal agencies in DOT when it comes to hazardous material shipments, it is not clear to me that there is much overlap in the accident reporting requirements.

What this looks like to me is more of a government efficiency move than a move to reduce redundant reporting requirements. Government efficiency is always a good thing and OMB does have a mandate to oversee improvements in that area. Unfortunately, it does not seem that it has much actual power to force intradepartmental coordination. So it looks like OIRA is being used as a new tool to make that work.

I suspect that DOT will make a pro forma attempt at complying with the OIRA mandate, but will end up finding that the information collected in these different hazardous material accident reports is so different in scope and details that combining the reporting requirements would be more of a burden on the public sector. If true, that would certainly be a legitimate reason for not combining the collection efforts.

I believe, however, that with modern computer technology (and all of these reports are now being submitted on-line) it would be a relatively simple matter to make the reporting system show only the mode specific questions to the reporting entity once the mode of transportation involved in the accident is identified in a single initial check box type arrangement. It would be as easy to ensure that the modal agencies could abstract the information they need from the resulting accident reporting data base.

The combined data base would also make it easier for the Department to get a better look at the hazardous material shipping safety profiles of companies across the modal spectrum. I don’t believe that the Department now has the means to make a quick check to see how many hazardous material shipping accidents a particular company has across the whole spectrum of transportation modes.

There is, however, a significant downside to combining these ICRs. Whenever a change is made in the reporting requirements or estimated burden response for an ICR, a new ICR is required to go through the OIRA approval process. With multiple offices in PHMSA and other modal agencies making legitimate changes to their reporting process there is going to be an ICR revision coordination problem. The only real solution to that problem would be to add another team in the Office of the Secretary to handle the ICR paperwork and coordination for this super-ICR. That additional layer of bureaucracy is going to defeat the whole idea of increasing efficiency that is the real reason for starting this combining of ICRs in the first place.

It will be interesting to see what DOT does with this new requirement.

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