Department of Transportation Should Measure the Overall Performance and Outcomes of the TIGER Discretionary Grant Program
GAO-14-766: Published: Sep 23, 2014. Publicly Released: Sep 23, 2014.
What GAO Found
In response to GAO's May 2014 recommendations on the Department of Transportation's (DOT) management of the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant program, DOT revised its procedures to improve documentation of key decisions. In May 2014, GAO found, among other things, that DOT did not document its rationale for advancing 43 projects with lower technical evaluation ratings instead of 22 more highly-rated projects in the 2013 funding round. GAO recommended that DOT provide more complete documentation of decisions to advance projects with lower technical evaluation ratings. In response, DOT revised its application evaluation guidelines for the 2014 funding round to require additional documentation, but the revised guidelines lack sufficient detail for GAO to determine whether some concerns will be addressed. For example, the revised guidelines do not specify who may request the advancement of a lower-rated project and at what point in the process those decisions can occur. DOT was in the process of evaluating TIGER applications for the 2014 funding round during our review and recently announced its award decisions. GAO will review DOT's application evaluation and project selection decisions for the most recent funding round to determine if the May 2014 recommendations are fully addressed.
DOT has leveraged investments from state and local agencies through selected TIGER grants and taken steps to address the program's statutory requirements. In GAO's review of 20 selected projects from the 2009 through 2012 funding rounds, about one-half of the total construction costs were funded by non-federal sources, with 34 percent of funds coming from counties, cities, and other local agencies. DOT has also taken steps to address other program objectives, including statutory requirements for an equitable geographic distribution of funds, to award specified funding amounts to rural projects, and to invest in a variety of transportation modes through rail, road, transit, port, and other projects.
DOT has taken steps to measure the performance of individual TIGER projects, but cannot assess overall program performance because many project performance measures do not clearly link to the overall program's long-term outcomes. DOT requires grantees to measure the performance and results of their individual projects through periodic reporting of key performance measures developed in coordination with DOT. However, selected TIGER projects' performance measures from the first four funding rounds did not satisfy two key attributes—linkage to overall program goals and measurable targets—that GAO has identified for successful performance measures. For example, many of the project measures do not clearly link to the TIGER program's five long-term outcomes, such as improving the state-of-good repair and the safety of transportation systems. These outcomes serve as DOT's goals for the program and mirror DOT's overall strategic goals. As a result, DOT lacks a framework to assess the performance of the overall TIGER program in achieving its long-term outcomes, and Congress lacks information on whether the amounts invested in the program have had their intended impact on the nation's transportation infrastructure—information that could be useful when making future funding decisions.
Why GAO Did This Study
Since 2009, Congress has appropriated $4.2 billion to DOT to award TIGER grants for transportation investments intended to have a significant impact on the nation, a region, or a metropolitan area. GAO was asked to review the TIGER program. During the review, GAO noted a number of concerns with DOT's process for evaluating TIGER applications and selecting projects during the 2013 funding round. Consequently, in May 2014, GAO recommended that DOT establish additional accountability measures for the 2014 and subsequent TIGER funding rounds.
In this report, GAO assesses (1) DOT's progress in addressing the May 2014 recommendations; (2) the extent to which DOT has leveraged non-federal funds in selected TIGER grants awarded from 2009 through 2012, and met other selected program objectives; and (3) steps DOT has taken to measure the performance of the overall TIGER program. GAO reviewed DOT guidelines and grant agreements for 20 TIGER projects selected by region, type, and other factors.
What GAO Recommends
GAO recommends that DOT develop clear linkages between project performance measures and program goals to better measure the performance of the TIGER program and its funded projects in meeting the program's long-term outcomes. DOT agreed to improve performance measurement for the program.
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Recommendation for Executive Action
Comments: In response to GAO's recommendation that DOT measure the overall performance and outcomes of the TIGER program, DOT's Office of Undersecretary of Transportation for Policy provided to GAO a report titled the "TIGER Discretionary Grant Program Performance Measurement Biennial Report" in July 2016. This report identifies 96 completed TIGER projects through the end of 2015, and indicates that DOT has taken steps to link project level performance measures to one or more TIGER program goals. However, these project performance measures do not contain measurable targets for projects to achieve. According to DOT, setting measurable targets on a project-by-project basis is challenging due to a lack of trend data at the project level. Instead, DOT chose to assess project performance by requiring grantees to collect and report baseline data prior to project construction and compare it against data collected for several years after project completion. While DOT's approach was useful for presenting illustrative examples of project achievement for certain projects in its report, DOT's efforts were impeded by the fact that grantees often did not collect and submit required baseline data. Specifically, DOT reported that one-third of the 96 completed projects have submitted none or only some of the baseline data required to measure performance. Furthermore, DOT did not use the information in its Biennial report to assess the overall performance and outcomes of the TIGER program. While DOT explained that such an assessment would be difficult, the report did not outline any plans to develop that capability in the future. Finally, while GAO's report stated that information on the performance of the TIGER program could provide Congress information on whether the amounts invested in the program have had their intended impact on the nation's transportation infrastructure that could help inform future funding decisions, this report has not been made available to Congress or the public. As of October 2016, DOT stated it planned to make its biannual performance measures report available to the public by the end of 2016. We will continue to monitor DOT's actions and review future reports from DOT and assess the progress it makes in obtaining needed data from grantees and measuring the overall performance and outcomes of the TIGER program.
Recommendation: To help inform future funding decisions for the TIGER program, the Secretary of Transportation should develop clear linkages between project performance measures and the program's goals, and include measurable targets, so that DOT can better measure and report on the performance of the program and its funded projects in meeting its established long-term outcomes.
Agency Affected: Department of Transportation