Transportation-Disadvantaged Populations:

Federal Agencies Are Taking Steps to Assist States and Local Agencies in Coordinating Transportation Services

GAO-04-420R: Published: Feb 24, 2004. Publicly Released: Feb 24, 2004.

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Katherine A. Siggerud
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In June 2003, we reported that over 60 federal programs can fund transportation services for certain "transportation-disadvantaged" populations (such as some elderly persons, persons with disabilities, or low-income persons) that lack the ability to provide their own transportation or have difficulty accessing conventional public transportation, but that several obstacles impede coordination of these programs. Most of the programs are administered by four federal departments--Transportation, Health and Human Services, Labor, and Education. Coordinating these disparate federal efforts could result in more efficient use of federal resources and in improved services for these transportation-disadvantaged populations. In fact, some local areas that have overcome existing obstacles and successfully coordinated the services offered by federal programs and others available in their area have realized improved customer service and substantial cost savings. To promote and encourage further coordination of the transportation services provided by these programs, we recommended that (1) the Departments of Labor and Education join the Departments of Transportation and Health and Human Services as members of the Coordinating Council on Access and Mobility (Coordinating Council); (2) the members of the Coordinating Council develop and distribute additional guidance to states and other grantees that encourages the coordination of transportation services; (3) the member departments ensure that the Coordinating Council's strategic plan and each member department's strategic and annual performance plans have long-term goals and performance measures related to coordinating the departments' programs and improving transportation for transportation-disadvantaged populations; and (4) the member departments link their Web sites to the Web site of the Coordinating Council and advertise the site in departmental correspondence and other outreach opportunities. In addition to these recommendations, we identified several more general options for improving coordination--including developing improved leadership and establishing interagency forums at the federal, state, and local levels; harmonizing differing federal program standards and requirements; and providing financial incentives to encourage state or local agencies to coordinate. Congress asked us to (1) determine whether the four federal departments and the Coordinating Council have taken steps to address our recommendations and (2) identify actions taken by the four federal departments in relation to the options we outlined for improving coordination.

Federal departments and the Coordinating Council have made progress implementing the recommendations in our June report, which should result in improved coordination of federal programs at the state and local level. However, the departments have made limited efforts to include coordination in their strategic and annual performance plans. The Departments of Labor and Education have been invited to join the Coordinating Council, and have been active in interdepartmental working groups under the council. In addition, several efforts are under way to improve and expand the range of guidance and technical assistance offered by three of the four federal departments; however, the Department of Education has yet to begin developing guidance on coordination for its programs. These federal coordination efforts are designed to help state and local agencies coordinate some of the key federal programs, such as Health and Human Services' Medicaid program and Labor's programs under the Workforce Investment Act, with transportation services funded by the Department of Transportation. All of these actions are in the early stages of implementation, and their success will depend on whether the departments can muster a sustained effort focused on measurable performance goals related to coordination efforts. While the Federal Transit Administration--an agency within the Department of Transportation--has included coordination-related performance goals in its strategic plan, other agencies and departments have not yet fully incorporated transportation coordination objectives, goals, or performance measures related to coordination in their strategic and annual performance plans. Officials within the involved departments and agencies, however, have identified transportation and the coordination of these services as an area to consider in the next cycle of planning efforts. Finally, while some of the agencies within the Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor, and Education have linked their Web sites to the Coordinating Council's Web site, or have plans to do so, other agencies within these departments have not yet implemented this recommendation. The Departments of Transportation, Health and Human Services, Labor, and Education have also taken additional actions related to the other options outlined in our report for improving coordination. In December 2003, the four departments launched a five-part coordination initiative--"United We Ride"--that is designed to help states and communities overcome obstacles to coordination. This initiative is designed to provide financial incentives for coordination and establish an interagency forum for communication. While this initiative holds promise for improving coordination at the state and local levels, it is too soon to comment on its ability to do so. Also, while there have been some onetime funding contributions from three of the four departments, a more long-term commitment of resources could make the success of these ongoing actions more likely.

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