Federal-Aid Highway Program:

Impact of the District of Columbia Emergency Highway Relief Act

RCED-97-162: Published: Jun 30, 1997. Publicly Released: Jun 30, 1997.

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Pursuant to a legislative requirement, GAO reviewed the District of Columbia's efforts to implement the District of Columbia Emergency Highway Relief Act, focusing on: (1) the extent to which the District took advantage of the opportunity for the federal government to pay 100 percent of the eligible projects' costs expended during the waiver period; (2) whether the District's efforts to streamline its contract award process have reduced the time frames to process and execute federal-aid highway contracts; and (3) the status of the District's efforts to implement the Federal Highway Administration's (FHwA) recommendations for improving the District of Columbia Department of Public Works' (DPW) capabilities to carry out its federal-aid highway program.

GAO noted that: (1) the District used the waiver authority for 62 of the 98 projects it designated as eligible for the waiver; (2) the federal government reimbursed the District $55.5 million for the eligible projects' costs expended during the 14-month waiver period; (3) of this amount, the District's matching share waived by the act was $10.2 million; (4) the District's efforts to streamline its contract award process have improved the time frame to execute federal-aid highway contracts over $1 million; (5) when the District agreed to implement a pilot program to streamline the external review and approval process in June 1996, the District's goal was to shorten the time frame for the process to 45 days, which is typical for other recipients of federal-aid highway funds; (6) for contracts processed since the act became law, the average time to execute contracts over $1 million decreased, from 183 days to 92 days, and the average time to execute contracts under $1 million increased slightly; (7) unless efforts are made to streamline DPW's internal contract award procedures, the District has little chance of achieving the 45-day contract award goal; (8) the District has implemented two of the seven agreed-upon priority recommendations in FHwA's April 1996 technical assistance report involving changes made to the contract award process and to project programming and tracking; (9) DPW has not taken action on the other five priority recommendations, which include modifying its budget implementation process, increasing funding for operations and maintenance, increasing its staff levels, developing and implementing staff-training programs, or procuring additional computer and software support; (10) according to District officials, the District government's budget and personnel ceiling constraints affect the District's ability to implement some recommendations; (11) District officials acknowledged that they have not focused attention on these recommendations but, instead, on restructuring DPW's organization, including developing a performance-based management system, and addressing a White House proposal for changes in the District's transportation program; (12) the District has neither developed a plan to systematically implement the recommendations nor monitored the implementation of the technical assistance recommendations; and (13) in response to GAO's review, District officials have recently begun to determine the status of each recommendation and to develop and document their plans for implementing each.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Department of Transportation concurs with this recommendation and is continuing to assist DPW in identifying and implementing improvements to facilitate the delivery of federal-aid highway contracts. According to DOT's D.C. Division Office, the District has not made changes since 1999 that would substantially reduce the time to process and execute federal-aid highway contracts. However, the District Department of Transportation is currently undergoing a "massive" restructuring effort with the assistance of the Volpe Center. Ward-based project management teams will be created to take projects from planning through close out. Teams' performance will be measured and they will be held accountable. Implementation of the new structure is scheduled for October 1, 2001.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator of FHwA to continue to work with the District to evaluate DPW's internal contract award procedures and assist the District in implementing changes needed to help reduce the time to process and execute federal-aid highway contracts.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Since the issuance of the report, numerous organizational changes have occurred that have affected both DPW and the District of Columbia Government. For example, the DC Control Board was abolished by Congress and there has been a change in DC mayoral administrations. These changes have prompted many new initiatives designed to improve the processes and operations of both DPW and the District Government. The sheer multitude and magnitude of the changes makes further tracking of this recommendation next to impossible; therefore, the recommendation should be closed.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator of FHwA to assist DPW in establishing priorities, timetables, and process for monitoring the implementation of FHwA's April 1996 recommendations that are still found to be worthwhile.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

 

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