Empty Government, Part 1

A series of posts on the positions yet to be filled in the Trump Administration. No president has left this many positions vacant for this long. National news outlets are reporting on the number and names of these positions, but without context about the jobs they are supposed to do, those counts do not illustrate the serious consequences invited by an administration so behind in hiring.

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President Trump has yet to nominate the head of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA). My guess is you had never heard of this bureaucracy. I had not until about a year ago, and I study bureaucracy.

PHMSA is charged with the safety of America’s natural gas pipelines. Some context here: Since the beginning of the shale gas boom in 2006, the US has dramatically expanded its infrastructure of natural gas pipelines. More pipelines are operating at higher capacity. This has also meant cheaper energy for American consumers. That’s a good thing.

But these pipelines can leak and explode. When that happens, they kill people. If you’re interested specific (tragic) cases, I recommend reading this POLITICO investigation from 2015, which found that around 80 people had been killed by pipeline incidents from 2010-2015. The POLITICO report highlights the lax regulations and lack of resources characteristic of PHMSA. In essence, PHMSA does not hold natural gas pipelines to high safety standards, and the standards that are in place are not enforced.

Not surprisingly, locals don’t want these pipelines built near their homes. Where I used to live near the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia, you will see signs along Highway 151 that read “No Pipeline.” Right now, PHMSA is leaderless, and there is no one nominated to be the boss. There is no one setting priorities, driving needed change, or even maintaining the existing (subpar) status quo. So I recommend you get one of these.

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