Actions Needed to Improve Documentation of Key Decisions in the TIGER Discretionary Grant Program
GAO-14-628R: Published: May 28, 2014. Publicly Released: May 28, 2014.
What GAO Found
The Department of Transportation (DOT) did not document key decisions made in evaluating grant applications and selecting projects during the fifth round of the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) discretionary grant program, and deviated from DOT’s established procedures and recognized internal control practices. Specifically, DOT did not document key decisions to (1) accept and review applications received after the published deadline; (2) advance projects with lower technical ratings instead of more highly-rated projects, and its procedures were inconsistent with DOT’s internal guidelines; and (3) change the technical ratings of lower-rated projects selected for funding to the highest technical rating category. According to Standards for Internal Control in the Federal Government, all transactions and other significant events need to be clearly documented and that the documentation should be readily available for examination. An absence of documentation of such decisions can give rise to challenges to the integrity of the evaluation process and the rationale for the decisions that DOT made.
Why GAO Did This Study
Since 2009, DOT has awarded about $3.6 billion in TIGER grants to states, local governments, and other entities for highway, transit, rail, and port projects expected to have a significant impact on the nation, a metropolitan area, or a region. To date, DOT has completed five annual funding rounds for the TIGER program, and, at the time of this report, is reviewing grant applications to award $600 million through a sixth TIGER funding round with award decisions expected to be announced in the coming months. In GAO’s 2011 review of DOT’s first TIGER funding round, GAO found that DOT developed comprehensive selection criteria and a competitive process for evaluating applications but it did not document key decisions, including its rationale for selecting projects with lower technical ratings for half the awards over more highly-rated ones. GAO noted that the absence of such documentation can give rise to challenges to the integrity of DOT’s selection decisions and subject it to criticism that it selected projects for reasons other than merit. GAO recommended that DOT document key decisions for all major steps in the review process. As part of this report, GAO has examined the extent to which DOT followed its grant application evaluation process and documented key decisions in the fifth TIGER funding round in fiscal year 2013.
What GAO Recommends
GAO recommends that DOT establish additional accountability measures for management of the TIGER program including clear procedures for addressing late-arriving applications and for documenting and approving major decisions in the application evaluation and project selection process.
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Recommendation for Executive Action
Comments: GAO reviewed DOT's TIGER application evaluation process for the 2014 and 2015 funding rounds and found that DOT established guidance that it would no longer accept late-arriving TIGER applications and it improved its internal procedures for documenting major decisions in its application evaluation database, including decisions to advance for senior review applications other than those rated as "highly recommended." However, DOT did not document these procedures through a decision memorandum or similar mechanism to ensure a consistent and transparent process for approving major decisions in these and future TIGER rounds. Moreover, in reviewing the 2015 TIGER application evaluation process, GAO noted that DOT altered its procedures for evaluating applications while the review process was ongoing. According to DOT's Financial Assistance Guidance Manual, grant evaluations must be conducted in accordance with the evaluation plan created prior to the announcement, and may not be changed once applications have been received. In July 2016 the Department's Inspector General initiated an audit of the TIGER program to assess DOT's application evaluation procedures. GAO will review the Inspector General's findings when they become available.
Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should establish additional accountability measures for management of the TIGER program to (1) establish clear procedures for addressing late-arriving applications and communicate its decisions to either accept or reject these applications to the public, and (2) document and approve major decisions in the application evaluation and project selection process through a decision memorandum or similar mechanism that provides a clear rationale for decisions to: (a) advance for senior review applications other than those rated as highly recommended; (b) not advance applications rated as highly recommended; and (c) change the technical evaluation rating of an application.
Agency Affected: Department of Transportation