National Security

Published — September 2, 2010 Updated — May 19, 2014 at 12:19 pm ET

U.S. agency fails to document, track pipeline security measures

Introduction

The Department of Homeland Security’s pipeline security unit, which scrutinizes the 100 most critical U.S. energy pipeline systems, should put its anti-terrorism recommendations in writing and create a database to track whether pipeline owners carry them out, the Government Accountability Office said.

A tiny office within the Transportation Security Administration, the Pipeline Security Division was created after the 9/11 terror attacks and oversees more than 2.4 million miles of onshore pipelines that ship crude oil, gasoline, natural gas, and hazardous chemicals across the United States. The agency has not issued any security regulations, preferring to work with the energy industry on voluntary measures such as vehicle checkpoints, employee screening, intrusion detection, closed-circuit cameras, and drills to help safeguard pipelines, the GAO said in a new report.

The 12-man pipeline division has completed on-site security reviews for the 100 most critical pipeline systems but does not routinely send its recommendations in writing to pipeline operators. It also does not have a database of the recommendations or a process to follow up on them, the GAO said, which means the agency “lacks assurance that its recommendations are being implemented and whether the state of pipeline security is improving.” Tracking pipeline owners’ voluntarily compliance with recommendations is crucial to determine if the federal government needs to take more forceful action such as issuing mandatory regulations, the report said.

The GAO also noted that the agency missed its August 2009 deadline to give Congress a plan for how to continue transporting natural gas and hazardous chemicals to key markets if a critical pipeline is attacked by terrorists. A draft plan, which clarifies the roles of federal agencies in various kinds of incidents but does not recommend any changes by pipeline owners, is now being reviewed by the Office of Management and Budget, the GAO said.

Fast Fact: Although the United States has the largest network of energy pipelines in the world, attacks have been rare. A terrorist plot to attack jet fuel pipelines at JFK International Airport was foiled in 2007, the same year an American citizen was separately convicted of conspiring with Al-Qaeda to blow up sections of the Trans Alaska Pipeline System.

Other new reports released by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) or various federal Offices of Inspector General (OIG):

FINANCE

* Horizon Bank in Bellingham, Wash., failed mostly due to a heavy concentration of development and construction loans, costing the FDIC $527 million (OIG)

* Florida Community Bank in Immokalee, Fla., failed mostly due to poor management, costing the FDIC $349 million (OIG)

* The failure of EverGreen Bank in Seattle will cost the FDIC $52.5 million, about $8 million less than initially estimated (OIG)

MISC.

* Some grantees are not properly managing Justice Dept. grants funded by the 2009 stimulus law (OIG)

* The Social Security Administration’s decision to build a new computer facility in Woodlawn, Md., did not consider some relevant costs (OIG)

* The Social Security Administration does not attempt to recover a large proportion of benefit overpayments it identifies (OIG)

* KPMG audit finds “material weakness” in U.S. Customs and Border Patrol’s information technology access controls, security management, and segregation of duties (OIG)

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