"I firmly believe that, like any responsible government agency, MSHA should continuously review its activities to improve its efficiency and performance," MSHA chief Joe Main said in a prepared statement.
"Conducting audits is not a new practice for MSHA -- they've been carried out for years," Main said, "but beyond that, it's important to do more than identify and correct specific issues. We take these findings seriously and are implementing new training, and revising policies and procedures to ensure that common problems that have been identified do not crop up again and again."
The newly released audit findings, though, mirror conclusions of numerous MSHA internal reviews conducted after major mining disasters over the past 20 years, as well as repeated criticism from the Labor Department Inspector General and the U.S. Government Accountability Office.
Also, MSHA's internal auditing and accountability programs had been harshly criticized several times by Labor Department's Inspector General as being inadequate.
Then-MSHA chief Richard Stickler created the accountability office in June 2007, in response to scathing internal reviews about MSHA's performance prior to disasters the previous year at the Sago, Aracoma and Darby mines.
However, MSHA did not regularly make public any of the audits by that office, and only provided Congress a report on its activities because lawmakers required the summary as part of an appropriations bill.
In the audits released Friday, MSHA removed the names of mining companies and individual mines where agency inspection and enforcement activities were reviewed. MSHA spokeswoman Amy Louviere said that material was removed to protect the identity of agency inspectors and "because of open litigation."
In a news release, MSHA said the audits identified instances of inadequate supervisory reviews of inspections, which agency officials blamed on "widespread attrition that resulted in many field office supervisors having five or fewer years with the agency.
"MSHA has developed and conducted a training program specifically tailored to provide supervisors with the essential tools to successfully carry out their functions," the news release said. "By the end of April, all metal and nonmetal supervisors will have completed this training. Supervisory training for coal mine safety and health supervisors will be scheduled during the next six months."
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.