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    Subject Term: "Rail (Railroads)"

    3 publications with a total of 11 open recommendations including 1 priority recommendation
    Director: Susan A. Fleming
    Phone: (202) 512-2834

    3 open recommendations
    Recommendation: To strengthen FRA's grants management practices, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the FRA Administrator to enhance the process outlined in the Grants Manual to monitor project performance for future grants to include: (1) performance measures directly linked to project goals, and (2) fully incorporating timely and actionable information on grantee performance into FRA's review process to help determine whether current efforts are in line with the overall project goals.

    Agency: Department of Transportation
    Status: Open

    Comments: DOT agreed with this recommendation and stated that FRA will enhance the grants management manual content linking performance measures to project goals, and incorporating timely and actionable information on grant performance into monitoring and oversight activities. DOT stated FRA would complete these actions by June 30, 2017.
    Recommendation: To strengthen FRA's grants management practices, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the FRA Administrator to develop and provide written guidance to grantees to include FRA's expectations on the type of information grantees should provide, such as guidance specific to deliverables and milestones for each grant project.

    Agency: Department of Transportation
    Status: Open

    Comments: DOT agreed with this recommendation and stated that FRA will identify gaps in existing guidance and develop and disseminate revised guidance to grantees. DOT stated FRA would complete these actions by December 31, 2017.
    Recommendation: To strengthen FRA's grants management practices, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the FRA Administrator to analyze training needs and formalize a training plan for grantees and agency staff, which could include training on grant-specific procedures and policies.

    Agency: Department of Transportation
    Status: Open

    Comments: DOT agreed with this recommendation and FRA developed a revised formal training plan in March 2017. As of May 2017, we are reviewing this plan.
    Director: Susan Fleming
    Phone: (202) 512-2834

    6 open recommendations
    Recommendation: To ensure that planned improvements to Amtrak's routes are implemented and their outcomes can be evaluated, the President of Amtrak should prioritize the adoption of Amtrak's strategic management system in all of Amtrak's remaining lines of business and functional departments.

    Agency: National Railroad Passenger Corporation
    Status: Open

    Comments: In May 2017, Amtrak officials indicated that Amtrak was rolling-out its strategic management system in several departments and plans were in place to extend the roll out over time. According to Amtrak officials, senior management meets monthly to discuss progress being made in the company's various strategic initiatives, however the officials noted that full implementation of the strategic management system would take time, and did not provide an estimated completion date. We will continue to monitor Amtrak's progress in adopting the strategic management system across its various business lines and functional departments.
    Recommendation: To ensure that planned improvements to Amtrak's routes are implemented and their outcomes can be evaluated, the President of Amtrak should externally report how Amtrak's initiatives meet the goals established under the Amtrak's strategic management system.

    Agency: National Railroad Passenger Corporation
    Status: Open

    Comments: In May 2017, Amtrak officials confirmed that Amtrak disagrees with this recommendation and has not taken action to implement it. Officials reported that much of Amtrak's business takes place in an environment that is increasingly competitive and prefers to keep its deliberation on these initiatives confidential. As we reported in January 2016, while we agree that there is value to keeping business proprietary information and deliberations confidential, Amtrak should be able to externally report progress without disclosing confidential deliberations or information to show how its initiatives are meeting the goals established under its strategic management system. Without this reporting, it is difficult for the company to demonstrate to Congress and other stakeholders how Amtrak is improving its financial and operating performance, and whether it is making the most efficient use of federal funds. Thus, we continue to believe that our recommendation is valid and that Amtrak should fully implement it. We will continue to monitor any steps taken by Amtrak to report outcomes of initiatives taken under Amtrak's strategic management system.
    Recommendation: To improve the consistency and completeness of Amtrak's financial reporting and to provide Congress with accurate information to make funding decisions, the President of Amtrak should make the format of its monthly performance reports and its 5-year financial plan consistent to show all of Amtrak's revenues and expenses by major function for each line of business.

    Agency: National Railroad Passenger Corporation
    Status: Open

    Comments: In May 2017, Amtrak officials confirmed that Amtrak disagrees with this recommendation and has not taken action to implement it. According to Amtrak, the 5-year financial plan and monthly performance reports serve different purposes and their utility would be lost if it attempted to "standardize" them. As we reported in January 2016, we continue to believe that it is important to improve the consistency and completeness of Amtrak's financial reporting and to provide Congress with accurate information to use in making funding decisions. The intent of our recommendation is that Amtrak provide a mechanism to show how its financial results in its monthly performance reports are comparable to the financial targets by line of business that are in its 5-year financial plan. Because Amtrak has not taken action to implement this recommendation, the inconsistency between the two reports makes it difficult to compare Amtrak's past results with its future forecasts. As a result, Congress and the states lack a clear view into the financial performance of the company that they help fund. Thus, we continue to believe that our recommendation is valid and that Amtrak should fully implement it. We will continue to monitor steps taken by Amtrak to improve the consistency and completeness of Amtrak's financial reporting.
    Recommendation: To improve the consistency and completeness of Amtrak's financial reporting and to provide Congress with accurate information to make funding decisions, the President of Amtrak should ensure that Amtrak's depreciation expenses are appropriately allocated to its lines of business once the underlying capital asset data are determined reliable.

    Agency: National Railroad Passenger Corporation
    Status: Open

    Comments: In May 2017, Amtrak officials confirmed that Amtrak disagrees with this recommendation and has not taken action to implement it. According to Amtrak, reporting of depreciation costs is of limited use for management accounting for several reasons, including that many of Amtrak's key assets, such as bridges and tunnels on the Northeast Corridor are fully depreciated, and that Amtrak's financial system includes a synthetic capital charge, which serves as a proxy for depreciation and is currently allocated across routes. As we reported in January 2016, we agree that given the long-lived nature of Amtrak's capital assets, depreciation calculated for financial reporting purposes may not provide an appropriate measure of the economic costs of using the related assets. While Amtrak may be capturing depreciation or economic costs through its synthetic capital charge (which serves as a proxy for depreciation and which Amtrak does not publicly report), as we also mention in this report, Amtrak may be misstating its line-of-business financial results by not allocating depreciation costs to its lines of business. There are a number of methods or models used to calculate depreciation or economic costs. However, regardless of the method used, it is important that the data used to calculate depreciation or the economic costs of using long-lived assets--historical cost, useful life, residual value--are complete, accurate, and timely. Thus, we continue to believe that our recommendation is valid and that Amtrak should fully implement it. We will continue to monitor steps taken by Amtrak to improve the consistency and completeness of Amtrak's financial reporting.
    Recommendation: To help Congress in assessing Amtrak's need for federal assistance for state-supported routes and to help Amtrak to develop strategies to reduce the costs of its services, the President of Amtrak should delineate the specific costs and activities for state-supported routes that are covered by the federal government and communicate this information to Congress, such as in Amtrak's annual budget request.

    Agency: National Railroad Passenger Corporation
    Status: Open

    Comments: In March 2017, Amtrak provided GAO with financial reports that Amtrak had submitted to the Federal Railroad Administration that provide details of the revenues, costs, state payments, and operating losses for each of the state-supported routes for fiscal year 2016. Although these reports include some information on the costs of state-supported routes that are covered by the federal government, Amtrak has not provided this specific information to Congress to help with assessing Amtrak's need for federal assistance for these routes, as GAO recommended. Amtrak officials told us that the company plans to report to Congress information on the expected revenues and costs for state-supported routes in the Five Year Business Line Plans required by the Fixing America's Surface Transportation Act. According to Amtrak officials, they plan to submit the Five Year Business Line Plans to Congress on June 2, 2017. GAO will review those plans when published and continue to monitor Amtrak's efforts to delineate and report to Congress the specific costs and activities for state-supported routes that are covered by the federal government.
    Recommendation: In addition, to better inform congressional decision making regarding the funding of Northeast Corridor infrastructure improvements, the Northeast Corridor Commission should work with its members to establish criteria for its members to use in selecting and prioritizing capital projects to be included in future editions of its 5-year capital plan.

    Agency: Northeast Corridor Commission
    Status: Open

    Comments: In May 2017, the Northeast Corridor (NEC) Commission published the Northeast Corridor Capital Investment Plan, Fiscal Years 2018-2022 which documents planned capital investments to the NEC over the five year period. The plan identifies criteria for Commission members (Amtrak, states, and commuter railroads that operate on the NEC) to use in selecting and prioritizing certain projects that could be advanced over the coming five years. However, the plan does not establish such criteria for all investments in the plan. Specifically, the plan establishes criteria for selecting "unfunded projects"--including major bridge and tunnel projects and basic infrastructure improvements--that could be advanced if additional funding became available. These criteria are (1) shared use by commuter and intercity rail; (2) age and condition, with priority for replacing the oldest assets beyond their useful lives; (3) critical need for continued operation of existing service; and (4) project readiness to begin construction in the next five years. However, these criteria do not cover "funded projects," or those for which a funding source has been identified, including projects funded by Amtrak and the commuter railroads through their required contributions to the NEC Commission's Baseline Capital Charge program. According to the NEC Commission officials, the Commission members have yet to establish specific criteria for funded projects due to challenges in working with Amtrak's legacy capital planning process. Amtrak has traditionally allocated funding amounts to the various segments of the NEC where the company plans to make improvements, but its planning process does not identify the specific assets to be repaired in the coming year, or the criteria for selecting these assets. NEC Commission members said they would continue to work with Amtrak to develop clear criteria for selecting and prioritizing funded projects for inclusion in future editions of the NEC's 5-year capital improvement plan. We will continue to monitor progress made by the Commission and Amtrak in this area.
    Director: Susan Fleming
    Phone: (202) 512-4431

    2 open recommendations
    including 1 priority recommendation
    Recommendation: In order to clarify the federal role related to freight-related local traffic congestion, in implementing MAP-21 and any subsequent reauthorization, in its final guidance on state freight plans, Secretary of Transportation should incorporate additional information to help states define and prioritize local community impacts of national freight movements, including traffic-congestion impacts, and to establish what data could be consistently collected and analyzed in order to prioritize impacts of freight on local traffic congestion.

    Agency: Department of Transportation
    Status: Open

    Comments: On October 14, 2016, DOT finalized guidance on state freight plans and state freight advisory committees. Among other things, the guidance incorporates information to help states define and prioritize local community impacts of national freight movements and identifies data sources to assist in collecting and analyzing data to prioritize impacts of freight on local traffic congestion. Including this information in the final guidance to states, will assist in better defining the extent of freight-related congestion, prioritizing projects to mitigate such impacts at both the state and national level and in DOT establishing a clear federal role for addressing these issues.
    Recommendation: In order to clarify the federal role related to freight-related local traffic congestion, in implementing MAP-21 and any subsequent reauthorization, the Secretary of Transportation should include in the National Freight Strategic Plan a written statement articulating the federal role in freight-related local congestion impacts, by clearly identifying potential objectives and goals (under the general area DOT has established for the Freight Transportation Conditions and Performance Report of reducing adverse environmental and community impacts) for mitigating local congestion caused by national freight movements and the type of role federal and state stakeholders could play in achieving each objective and goal, and including a written strategy for improving the availability of national data needed to quantify, assess, and establish measures on freight trends and impacts on local traffic congestion.

    Agency: Department of Transportation
    Status: Open
    Priority recommendation

    Comments: DOT concurred with this recommendation, and has developed a draft National Freight Strategic Plan, for which the public comment period ended in April 2016. In December 2016, DOT noted that it is continuing to review public comments received and beginning work on a final draft plan that will address the federal role in freight-related local congestion, as well as the other elements of GAO's recommendation. DOT stated that it plans to release a final National Freight Strategic Plan by its statutory due date of December 4, 2017. A number of our recommendations to DOT to address national freight issues are tied to the issuance of DOT's National Freight Strategic Plan.Implementing our recommendation in connection with development of the freight strategic plan expeditiously would help maximize the efficient movement of freight and ensure accountability around identified national interests and goals.