Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration:

Additional Actions Needed to Strengthen Grants Management

GAO-12-158: Published: Dec 13, 2011. Publicly Released: Dec 13, 2011.

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What GAO Found

Prior to fiscal year 2010, FMCSA’s internal controls over management of all of its grant awards were weak, which increased the risk that FMCSA awarded grants that violated laws or FMCSA policies. Internal controls like those related to workforce training and policies and procedures can help provide assurance that operations, including grants management, are efficient and transactions comply with laws. However, FMCSA had only limited formal grants management training, limited documentation of grants management policies and procedures, and, according to FMCSA grants management staff, did not require legal review to help ensure that all awards complied with governing laws and regulations. As a result, FMCSA could not be certain that staff were trained in managing grant awards or followed relevant policies and laws in awarding grants, increasing the risk for mismanagement.

Since fiscal year 2010, FMCSA has taken a number of actions to transform its grants management practices, including planning to centralize oversight through a Grants Management Office, standardizing policies and procedures, developing grants management training, and implementing grants management systems to manage award processes and documentation. While these actions help address some existing internal control weaknesses—for example, clearly documented and standardized policies and procedures should help ensure that grants management staff follow policies when awarding grants—some challenges remain. Specifically, FMCSA has not conducted a strategic workforce analysis that could help it identify and fill gaps in expertise, as well as support its budget request to staff a Grants Management Office. Also, FMCSA’s grants management policies and procedures lack details on some grant program staff’s roles and responsibilities, and the agency does not have a system to easily track and ensure that staff complete required training. The agency also has not set metrics related to its grants management program or developed a method to measure progress in meeting those metrics. Further, since FMCSA has only recently implemented these actions, it is unclear how effective these new initiatives will be in improving its grants management. Regardless, it will be important that the agency have leadership in place that can continue to drive its transformation, as well as metrics to measure its progress in achieving its grants management goals.

Why GAO Did This Study

In 2011, the Department of Transportation (DOT) determined that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) had violated federal appropriations statues in awarding some grants for 1 of its 10 grant programs from fiscal years 2006 to 2010. This was caused in part by weaknesses in FMCSA’s internal controls and may have affected FMCSA’s ability to carry out its mission to reduce motor carrier (large truck and bus) accidents and fatalities. To the extent that these weaknesses existed in FMCSA’s other grant programs, it is possible that FMCSA also incorrectly awarded other grant funds.

As requested, this report examines (1) internal control weaknesses in FMCSA’s other grant programs prior to fiscal year 2010 that could have increased the risk of irregularities in grant awards and (2) FMCSA’s actions to improve grants management, and remaining challenges. GAO analyzed FMCSA grants management documents related to internal controls over grants both before and after fiscal year 2010 and recent actions, and interviewed FMCSA officials.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: Given the importance of FMCSA's grants programs in helping meet the agency's goals, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the FMCSA Administrator, in order to better determine its staffing and skill needs for grants management, to conduct a strategic grants management workforce planning evaluation, including an analysis of the needed staff resources for the proposed Grants Management Office (GMO).

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In 2011, GAO reported that since fiscal year 2010, the Federal Motor Carrier Administration (FMCSA) had taken a number of actions to transform its grants management practices, including planning to centralize oversight through a Grants Management Office. However, FMCSA had not conducted a strategic workforce assessment that could help it identify and fill gaps in expertise, as well as support its budget request to staff a Grants Management Office. GAO's internal control standards for control activities maintain agencies should ensure that skill needs are continually assessed and that their workforces have the skills necessary to help the agency meet its goals. GAO has reported that strategic workforce planning is an integral part of human capital management and helps an agency, among other things, determine the critical skills and competencies that will be needed to achieve current and future programmatic results and then develop strategies tailored to address any gaps identified. GAO recommended that FMCSA conduct a strategic grants management workforce planning evaluation in order to better determine its staffing and skill needs for grants management, including an analysis of the needed staff resources for the proposed Grants Management Office. As of October 2013, FMCSA-using using a third party contractor-has completed a strategic grants management workforce planning evaluation. This evaluation included a staffing needs analysis that provided details on the ideal staff levels for the agency's Grants Management Office. FMCSA's evaluation should provide the workforce information the agency needs to determine if it has the staff and skills necessary to effectively manage its grant programs and support the proposed Grants Management Office, or if it requires additional resources as it continues its grants management transformation.

    Recommendation: Given the importance of FMCSA's grants programs in helping meet the agency's goals, and to further improve grants management policies and procedures, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the FMCSA Administrator to add details regarding staff roles and responsibilities in the "Grants Management Manual" so that grants management staff are appropriately informed to manage each program.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In 2011, GAO reported that one key internal control improvement that FMCSA had made was to standardize and document, in its Grants Management Manual, its grants management policies and procedures, which were inconsistently documented prior to 2010. Among other things, the Manual provided information on the roles and responsibilities of grants management staff in one place. However, the Manual did not sufficiently document the roles and responsibilities of all grants management program staff. For example, grants management positions detailed in the Manual included program manager for the person in headquarters who manages all aspects of a specific grant program. However, there was a single list of roles and responsibilities for staff who manage grants in the field, including field administrators, service center directors, and state program managers. FMCSA officials told us that these individuals have different roles in the field, yet they have a single list of roles and responsibilities. GAO recommended that FMCSA, to further improve grants management policies and procedures, add details regarding staff roles and responsibilities in the Grants Management Manual so that grants management staff could be appropriately informed to manage each program. In April 2013 FMCSA released version three of its Grants Management Manual. This version included details on the roles and responsibilities for all relevant FMCSA grants management staff. As a result, FMCSA staff and management are now better informed as to relevant responsibilities of grants management and are more likely to manage grant programs appropriately.

    Recommendation: Given the importance of FMCSA's grants programs in helping meet the agency's goals, and to improve its tracking of grants management training, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the FMCSA Administrator to work with the appropriate DOT individuals to modify its training system to allow management to easily determine which staff have taken required training.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In 2011, GAO reported that FMCSA did not have a system for management to easily track employee training to ensure that staff complete required grants management training. FMCSA documented required training in employees' individual development plans. Separately, FMCSA's electronic training system listed courses and the names of staff who had completed them. According to FMCSA officials, the training system did not contain information from individual development plans, so it could not identify employees who had not taken certain training courses. As such, FMCSA relied on, but did not require, supervisors to monitor staff training. The absence of a formal, centralized mechanism for tracking staff training increases the risk that a staff's failure to take a required course could go undetected, increasing the risk that staff do not have the knowledge needed to appropriately manage grant awards. GAO recommended that FMCSA work with others in the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to modify its training system to allow management to determine which grants management staff have taken the required training. FMCSA partnered with relevant staff in DOT to modify its training management system. As of October 2013 FMCSA management can check the training histories of designated grants management staff and assign specific grants management related training to those staff. As a result of this modification, FMCSA management can better ensure that grants management staff are equipped to effectively manage grant awards.

    Recommendation: Given the importance of FMCSA's grants programs in helping meet the agency's goals, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the FMCSA Administrator, in order to track the progress of its grants management transformation, to create a series of measurable grants management goals and objectives and timelines for completing them, as well as a series of metrics to measure progress in meeting these goals. FMCSA should detail these goals and metrics in its "Grants Management Program Roadmap," track progress in meeting these goals over time, and report to Congress on its progress.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

    Status: Open

    Comments: FMCSA plans to develop a goal oriented grants management strategic plan that will clarify the overall purpose and desired results of the Agency's grant management program, and how those results will be achieved. The strategic plan will include measurable goals for critical areas of grants management and metric's to measure progress for meeting these goals.

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