Welfare Reform:

Competitive Grant Selection Requirement for DOT's Job Access Program Was Not Followed

GAO-02-213: Published: Dec 7, 2001. Publicly Released: Dec 7, 2001.

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In 1998, three-fourths of welfare recipients lived in central cities or rural areas, but two-thirds of new, entry-level jobs were in the suburbs. Public transportation, such as buses or subways, often offer little or no access to these jobs, and many welfare recipients do not have cars. To address this mismatch, the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century authorized up to $750 million through fiscal year 2003 for the Job Access and Reverse Commute (Job Access) program. Under the program, the Department of Transportation (DOT) can provide grants to improve transportation to employment sites. DOT must conduct a nationwide solicitation for grant applications and select grantees on a competitive basis. DOT adopted a two-track process for the selection of grantees. A noncompetitive process set aside funds for entities identified in conference reports, or applicants selected by those entities, and they were chosen without scoring or ranking their applications. The previously established competitive process for other applicants was continued. This two-track process for selecting Job Access grantees decreased opportunities to fund projects identified as "meritorious" through the competitive selection process. Although grantees must be chosen on a competitive basis, the allocation of program funds on a noncompetitive basis to entities designated in conference reports, or applicants selected by those entities, was not consistent. Furthermore, the conference reports did not impose legally binding requirements and did not provide a legal basis to deviate from the act's requirements. Therefore, the use of a noncompetitive process for the selection of program grantees in fiscal years 2000 and 2001 was not authorized.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Subsequent to GAO's recommendation that the Secretary of Transportation ensure that future grants, not otherwise designated in law, be made on a competitive basis, Congress designated Job Access and Reverse Commute grants in law. Thus, the Secretary was not able to select grants based on a competitive basis. Furthermore, transportation legislation passed in August, 2005, the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users' (SAFETEA-LU) began funding the Job Access and Reverse Commute program as formula program. Thus, the Secretary of Transportation will not be able to competitively select grantees for this funding under current legislation.

    Recommendation: In the absence of statutory authority to select Job Access grantees on a noncompetitive basis, the Secretary of Transportation should ensure that future grants to entities designated in conference reports, including grants to applicants selected by those entities, be made on a competitive basis.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation


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