Welfare Reform:

Job Access Program Improves Local Service Coordination, but Evaluation Should Be Completed

GAO-03-204: Published: Dec 6, 2002. Publicly Released: Dec 6, 2002.

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Pursuant to Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21), GAO periodically reports on the implementation of the Job Access and Reverse Commute (Job Access) program. The program is designed to assist low-income people in accessing employment opportunities. This report examines the Department of Transportation's (DOT) efforts to evaluate the program and report the results to the Congress. GAO also examined (1) transportation and related services provided by the program; (2) whether the program fosters collaboration between Job Access grantees and others in the design, financing, and delivery of those services; and (3) whether Job Access services would be financially sustainable after the end of Job Access funding.

Since 1999, DOT has awarded over $355 million for 352 Job Access grants in 42 states to help low-income people get to job opportunities and job support services, such as training and child care. Job Access grantees used various approaches to provide transportation for this purpose, such as expanding existing bus service, adding new areas to be served by an existing fixed transit route, or enhancing the frequency of the service. The program has met its goal of encouraging collaboration among transportation, human service, and other community-based agencies in Job Access service design, implementation, and financing. However, most of the program's services are not financially sustainable. For example, 12 percent of Job Access grantees indicated that they could continue their services after the end of program funding, while 41 percent reported they would likely terminate or decrease services, and 47 percent were uncertain about their ability to continue those services. DOT has not evaluated the Job Access program or reported to the Congress, as TEA-21 requires. The department therefore is missing an opportunity to provide timely information to the Congress that could assist it in deciding whether to reauthorize the program in 2003. GAO has several concerns about DOT's plans to evaluate the Job Access program. For its evaluation, DOT initially planned to use one performance measure--employment sites served. However, using a methodology that is based on this measure would yield limited information because it only partially addresses the program's goal of providing transportation to low-income people and does not address other program goals and criteria. Federal Transit Administration (FTA) program officials informed GAO that they also plan to use other performance measures, but they did not provide sufficient detail for GAO to comment on the quality of their evaluation. Moreover, the final report's date of issuance and its contents are uncertain because the report has yet to be reviewed and approved by the Office of the Secretary of Transportation, and the Office of Management and Budget. DOT officials did not provide GAO with an estimated date for submitting the report to the Congress.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: According to a program official, the FTA provided its evaluation of the Job Access program in a report to the Congress dated October 2002, but did not actually deliver the report until May 2003.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should report to Congress, as required by TEA-21, on the results of the evaluation of the Job Access Program.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: As part of its evaluation of the Job Access Program, the FTA included an assessment of the effectiveness of the program and reported on the collaboration fostered among social service and employment agencies and transportation providers. This evaluation relied, in part, on GAO's survey of Job Access grantees and case studies that were included in its report to congressional committees. However, FTA did not report on the financial sustainability of grantee services after the end of Job Access funding.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should include in the report to Congress, an evaluative methodology that examines the Job Access Program's effectiveness in meeting its goals of (1) establishing transportation-related services that help low-income individuals, including welfare recipients, reach jobs and employment support services, such as child care and training, and (2) increasing planning, financial, and service delivery collaboration among local transportation providers, human services agencies, and others in providing access to employment and employment support services. The report also should examine the financial sustainability of Job Access projects after the end of Job Access Program funding.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FTA has implemented this recommendation to the extent it is able to do so. According to a program official, FTA has raised the issue of using WIA funds as a match for Job Access grants with the Department of Labor during meetings of the Federal Interagency Coordinating Council on Access and Mobility. DOL's position is that the WIA program is geared to individual participants and grants cannot be given to agencies as a match for other funding that would purchase capital equipment to establish a transportation service such as a van-pool or new bus service. WIA funds can be used for individuals to buy a ticket for a vanpool service or a new bus line, but that is the extent of the transportation commitment. Because DOL has taken this position, FTA has advised states administering the Job Access program that their grantees could allow WIA participants to purchase transportation service and thereby obtain additional operating funds. Since DOT has taken action to the extent that it is able, we consider this recommendation to have been implemented.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should, in conjunction with the Department of Labor, issue guidance to states providing clarification on the use of Workforce Investment Act funds as matching funds for Job Access projects.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

 

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