Mass Transit:

Grants Management Oversight Improving, but Better Follow-up Needed on Grantees' Noncompliance

RCED-98-89: Published: Apr 3, 1998. Publicly Released: Apr 3, 1998.

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GAO reviewed the Federal Transit Administration's (FTA) grants management oversight, focusing on: (1) FTA's initiatives that have provided an increased focus on grants management oversight; and (2) the improvements that can be made to correct grantees' noncompliance and assess the program's effectiveness.

GAO noted that: (1) ongoing initiatives and related organizational changes are continuing to strengthen FTA's oversight of federal transit grants and thus decrease the risk associated with its multibillion-dollar grants program; (2) by improving guidance and training for staff and grantees, standardizing oversight procedures, and using contractor staff, FTA has improved the quality and consistency of its grants management oversight; (3) FTA has also made better use of other specialized oversight tools at its disposal, and has demonstrated a greater willingness to use enforcement actions to compel grantees to resolve noncompliance issues; (4) although FTA is improving its oversight of federal transit grants, the agency needs to give more attention to issuing reports on triennial reviews in a timely manner; (5) in addition, while GAO found that documentation pertaining to the various grants management oversight reviews was adequately maintained by most FTA regional offices, the almost total lack of documentation found in FTA's New York Regional Office, the region that oversees the most transit grant dollars, gives GAO little confidence that appropriate followup on noncompliance findings was being performed there; (6) furthermore, many grantees still frequently do not meet FTA's timeframes for correcting the noncompliance findings and deficiencies identified by oversight reviews; (7) in many cases, FTA regional officials told GAO that these problems could often be attributed to the lack of staff assigned to carry out oversight activities; (8) in this connection, GAO noted that FTA never followed through on an internal task force's earlier recommendation to look at how staff allocations are made between program and oversight functions; (9) as a result, there is no strong correlation between the number of grants, the number of staff performing oversight, and the time spent on oversight from region to region; (10) FTA does not know the full extent to which grantees' noncompliance with federal requirements is putting federal dollars at risk because it is not effectively using an established information system intended to track the resolution of oversight findings; (11) the system is not updated by regional staff as required, nor is it used by headquarters officials to help manage or monitor the oversight activities of FTA's regional staff--leaving FTA susceptible to, and unable to quickly respond to, situations in any of its regional offices that might compromise good oversight; and (12) officials said they are working to improve this system.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FTA officials informed GAO that they have and will continue to emphasize to their regional staff, through both memoranda and direct personal contact, the need to ensure application of standardized procedures and practices in the monitoring and correcting of grantees' areas of noncompliance.

    Recommendation: To continue FTA's progress in improving grants management oversight on a nationwide basis, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FTA, to require all regional staff to consistently apply established procedures and practices for monitoring and correcting grantees' noncompliance to ensure standardization throughout FTA.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FTA believes the findings from two earlier studies (1991, 1993) are still valid and that conducting another study will not be beneficial. FTA is aware of its staffing needs and will concentrate on filling vacancies in the oversight area when possible.

    Recommendation: To determine the regional staffing levels that are necessary to effectively carry out the responsibilities of grants management oversight in a timely manner, the Secretary of Transportation should require the Administrator, FTA, to complete the detailed staffing workload analysis recommended by an earlier internal task force.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FTA officials informed GAO that they have modified the Triennial Review reporting procedures to allow contractor personnel to enter Triennial Review Information System data. This helps ensure that timely and reliable information on Triennial Reviews is consistently entered into the information system. FTA has also implemented a Comprehensive Oversight Tracking System to track both grantee and regional oversight action, including the results of FTA's other specialized reviews. This is helping FTA monitor and correct instances where grantees are not in compliance with federal requirements.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should ensure that the Administrator, FTA, requires all regional staff to provide information on triennial reviews to the Triennial Review Information System on a consistent basis so that it can be used as the monitoring and tracking mechanism that FTA originally intended it to be. FTA should quickly move to incorporate the results of other specialized reviews, such as financial management oversight and procurement reviews, into the system so that all instances in which grantees are not in compliance with federal requirements can be monitored and tracked to their proper resolution.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FTA officials told GAO that they have taken a number of actions to address this recommendation. First, a memo was sent in March 1998 to all regional offices stressing the importance of timely completion of grantees' corrective actions. Second, FTA Headquarters officials have increased their monitoring of regional oversight operations to ensure renewed emphasis is placed on resolving noncompliance issues, closing out Triennial Reviews, and meeting established reporting timeframes for Triennial Reviews. Finally, FTA is using its Triennial Review Information System and its Comprehensive Oversight Tracking System, to identify, track, and follow up on noncompliance findings in a more timely manner.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should require the Administrator, FTA, to: (1) enforce the timeframes established by FTA for resolving noncompliance findings and closing out triennial reviews; and (2) abide by established reporting timeframes.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: As noted above, FTA Headquarters officials have taken actions to reemphasize reporting and issue resolution requirements to regional staff and have increased monitoring of these efforts.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should require that the Administrator, FTA, have the Office of Oversight monitor the way regional office staff are implementing oversight procedures and policies to ensure dependable and consistent application throughout the agency.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

 

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