MSHA officials assured IG investigators that companies on the list were only those that "routinely paid their civil penalties timely."
As of September 2010, MSHA had told IG investigators that the list included penalty cases totaling more than $8 million associated with 133 companies. In all, the "Exclusion List" included 325 mine operators, the IG report said in a footnote.
The exclusion list was created while Richard Stickler was head of MSHA, but Main defended the list in a letter to the Inspector General.
"The Exclusion List has served the purpose of not referring debt to Treasury for which payments have been received, but not yet applied, a significant savings in time and administrative costs for Treasurer, MSHA, and most importantly, the companies that have paid civil penalties that are pending payment application," Main said.
But the IG report said, "MSHA's use of the Exclusion List did nothing to address its problem of not applying payments timely. Instead, it created inconsistent and unfair practices by treating selected violators differently from other violators."
IG investigators warned that MSHA is not catching violators who don't pay their fines, because the agency has never finalized a May 2009 proposal on how to do so.
Using MSHA's proposed policy, IG investigators were able to identify three "scofflaw violators" that MSHA had not previously identified on its own. As of September 30, 2010, these three violators owed a total of nearly $850,000 in unpaid fines, the IG said.
"Without clearly defined policies and procedures to identify all potential scofflaw violators, violators may continue to operate while ignoring the financial consequences and the deterrent that civil penalties are intended to provide," the IG report said.
IG investigators also found that, in each of the 150 cases they examined, MSHA wrote off fines as un-collectable without first complying with agency rules for making such determinations.
"As a result, MSHA lacked assurance that it wrote off only debt that was truly un-collectable and that appropriate tax liabilities were recorded for forgiven debt," the IG report said.
IG investigators also revisited MSHA's failure to assess required fines for nearly 5,000 violations cited between 1995 and 2006. MSHA officials blamed the problem on poor management oversight, a lack of staff training, and a heavier workload.
The IG found that agency officials were only able to go back and issue fines for 134 of those old violations. Agency officials have been able to collect only $61,000 of the $143,000 in fines issued in those cases.
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.