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House Bill Aims to Speed Hiring of Federal Pipeline Inspectors

A new bill introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives could accelerate the hiring process for federal pipeline inspectors.

HR 3823, passed on for committee review last Friday, would give the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) direct hire authority, meaning the agency could bypass the U.S. Office of Personnel Management and thus trim some of the red tape involved in hiring inspectors. The bill would give PHMSA direct hire authority through the end of 2017.

U.S. Reps. Pete Olson (R-TX) and Gene Green (D-TX) introduced the bill, which is sponsored by Green and co-sponsored by Olson and Reps. Janice Hahn (D-CA) and Brian Babin (R-TX).

In a press release from Olson's office, comments from the lawmakers all pointed to a need to prioritize pipeline safety and facilitate PHMSA's hiring process. The release also notes that the bill encourages PHMSA to emphasize the hiring of women, veterans and minorities.

"Updating our infrastructure is only one part of making pipelines safer," Green said. "We need to hire and invest in pipeline inspectors. This bill will expedite that process while creating opportunities for underrepresented groups.”

"I have long called for PHMSA to be more active on pipeline inspections, but in order to do that they need more inspectors on the job," Hahn said. "Quite simply, more inspectors will mean safer pipelines and safer communities."

According to PHMSA, the agency depends on 139 federal inspection and enforcement officials and about 300 state inspectors to oversee the "nearly 3,000 companies operating 2.6 million pipeline miles, 118 [LNG] plants and 6,970 hazardous liquid breakout tanks."

Cathy Landry, a spokeswoman for the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America, said the trade group is generally supportive of HR 3823.

"INGAA supports pipeline safety and moves to enhance it," Landry said. "If the problem is they can't hire inspectors because they have to go through the Office of Personnel Management and the system is flawed and they want to fix that, then we don't have a problem with that."

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