The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) inspects interstate natural gas and hazardous liquid pipelines, investigates accidents, and enforces laws and regulations. PHMSA officials can issue a range of enforcement actions if they identify unsafe conditions or non-compliance with laws or regulations. The agency puts information about its enforcement activities on its public Enforcement Transparency website.
A recent review by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) determined that this website generally aligned with key practices for transparently reporting government data, but the government watchdog said the agency could make some improvements.
GAO found that the website fully met two of five key practices that GAO identified for transparently reporting open government data. These involve discussing the use of the website with users, including pipeline operators and the public, and providing a link on the website for users to submit feedback or questions. In addition, the website provides labels and descriptions of the enforcement data and tables. Metadata and licensing information for these data are available on a central Department of Transportation (DOT) website.
The PHMSA website partially met the remaining three key practices. While PHMSA’s website and the data it contains are available to the public at no cost, the agency does not publish complete data on its website. For example, PHMSA’s enforcement documents include variables that indicate whether the pipeline involved is interstate or intrastate, but GAO said PHMSA does not make these variables available in the enforcement dataset. GAO also found that PHMSA allows users to view and download disaggregated data on all enforcement activities. However, the watchdog said users are unable to download a bulk dataset of all enforcement activities from 2002 to 2022. GAO also noted that users cannot easily match records from the enforcement website with records in PHMSA’s accident dataset. GAO’s review determined that PHMSA facilitates data discovery by providing users with overviews and definitions of the enforcement information published on the website, and provides national summaries of the data. However, the review also found that PHMSA does not provide an optimized search tool that allows users to filter by discrete variables, such as the regulation violated.
GAO’s November 14 report makes three recommendations to improve the transparency and usability of PHMSA’s Enforcement Transparency website, specifically to provide complete data in more useful formats, to improve matching with other PHMSA datasets, and to optimize the website’s search function. DOT concurred with GAO’s recommendations and PHMSA officials stated that they would like to improve the website for users, but are first focusing on improving the electronic records system.