Surface Transportation:

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.

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flemings@gao.gov

 

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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.

For more information, contact Susan Fleming at (202) 512-2834 or flemings@gao.gov.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Priority recommendation

    Comments: In September 2014, we reported that the Department of Transportation (DOT) cannot assess overall performance of the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant program because many TIGER project performance measures do not clearly link to the overall program's long-term outcomes or include measurable targets. In particular, we reported that DOT has established 5 long-term outcomes for the TIGER grant program: state-of-good repair, economic competitiveness, livability, environmental sustainability, and safety. However, of the 95 TIGER project performance measures we reviewed, only 16 (17 percent) clearly linked to a TIGER program long-term outcome and could reasonably be used to indicate progress toward meeting one of the outcomes. We also found that only 1 of the 95 TIGER project performance measures we reviewed included a measurable target by which to assess project performance. As a result, we found that DOT lacked 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. We recommended that DOT 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. In 2017, GAO confirmed that DOT published the TIGER Discretionary Grant Program Performance Measurement Biennial Report, 2016, in which DOT provided a revised methodology and guidance for measuring performance of the TIGER discretionary grant program. The report includes a revised list of almost 50 project performance measures, each of which is associated with at least one TIGER long-term outcome. According to the report, TIGER grantees must select 2 to 4 measures to assess the performance of their project relative to the long-term outcomes of the TIGER program, and report data on these measures prior to construction and for several years after a project's completion. In its report DOT stated that rather than setting quantitative targets for awarded projects, DOT requires grantees to report performance data before and after project completion to enable grantees and DOT to assess the effectiveness of each project in achieving the benefits stated in the grant application. DOT has also established procedures to ensure that grantees report required performance data so that project outcomes can be assessed against established baselines. Although DOT has not established measurable targets for each project performance measure, we believe the actions taken address the intent of our recommendation and this approach will provide DOT with a lens to assess and measure project performance over time and in relation to the intended benefits of each project. Finally, DOT has committed to issuing additional Biennial Report--using the revised project performance measures that link to the TIGER program's long-term outcomes--to assess the entire portfolio of TIGER grants to determine the extent to which the overall program has achieved strategic outcomes. Such information should be helpful to assess the overall performance of the TIGER grant program and inform Congress's future funding decisions for the 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

 

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