District of Columbia's Department of Transportation's Reorganization and Use of Federal-Aid Funding

GAO-04-644R: Published: May 14, 2004. Publicly Released: Jun 1, 2004.

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Mark L. Goldstein
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The District of Columbia's (the District) transportation system is critical to the District's residents and businesses, the federal government, and the millions of tourists who visit the nation's capital annually. To help build and maintain its bridges and roads, the District receives federal highway funds from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). All of the District's bridges and about 30 percent of its roads are eligible for these funds; the remaining roads are maintained under the local transportation program using District funds. In 2003, the District expended a total of about $242 million on its bridge and road infrastructure, of which almost $158 million were federal-aid expenditures. To better manage its transportation services, the District reorganized its transportation infrastructure functions, creating a stand-alone Department of Transportation in 2002. According to the Volpe National Transportation Systems Center (Volpe Center), a lack of resources and inadequate attention to emerging infrastructure problems allowed local road conditions to decay to the point that in 1999, nearly 50 percent of local roads were rated fair or poor by FHWA. In addition, the District Department of Transportation's (DDOT) stakeholders believed that the organization was reactive, lacked vision, failed to communicate with citizens, and was unable to quickly respond to problems. Furthermore, we noted in 2000 that according to FHWA, the District's average processing times for transportation infrastructure design and construction contracts were lengthy--over 25 and 21 months, respectively, from notification of obligation ceiling to notice to proceed. To bring enhanced attention to transportation planning and management functions, as well as to improve processing times and overall performance, the Department of Transportation separated from the Department of Public Works and adopted a project management team approach to improve the planning, design, and construction of infrastructure projects. The reorganization is expected to provide more focus and leadership on transportation services and increase accountability for service delivery. A Member of Congress asked us to provide information on (1) the District's reorganization of its transportation department, (2) the department's performance measurement system, and (3) the District's use of federal-aid funds, including the average time frames for processing design and construction contracts.

DDOT is making significant progress with its organizational transformation efforts. The result of a 2003 forum's work was the identification of key practices that have consistently been followed throughout successful transformations. According to DDOT officials, the agency is implementing many of the organizational transformational practices, including establishing core values and a new performance management system linked to the agency's goals. Even though DDOT is off to a good start, several transformational challenges remain. DDOT is planning, or has plans to address, many of its remaining challenges; however, the agency has not developed an overall plan to support a fully integrated and successful organizational transformation. Because a transformation is a substantial commitment that could take years to complete, it requires long-term planning and leadership commitment to ensure success. We believe, and DDOT officials agree, that DDOT could benefit from a comprehensive transformational plan that would include implementation goals, measures, and a time line to show progress toward its transformation. DDOT is in the process of developing a comprehensive performance measurement system that is relevant to its organizational mission and incorporates industry best practices. DDOT officials reported that a number of past performance indicators were narrow in scope and difficult to measure. While DDOT officials also indicated that the quality of the performance data varied, they also noted that the quality of some performance data was poor. This affects the department's ability to accurately measure its performance. DDOT officials recognize these problems and have sought to remedy the situation by seeking guidance about industry best practices. As a result, DDOT is developing a new performance measurement system to obtain information about overall performance and to establish a connection between strategic goals and the results of day-to-day operations. DDOT officials are implementing a technology plan that addresses the quality of the performance data. This plan, which they expect to be fully implemented in 2 years, will automate data entry and update and integrate the information systems. The District's total expenditures for transportation projects increased from about $123 million in fiscal year 1999 to about $242 million in fiscal year 2003. For fiscal years 1989 through 2003, none of the District's federal aid highways apportionments lapsed, and the District used all funds up to its obligation ceiling, with the exception of $2.2 million in 1994 that was not obligated because a project was dropped from its plan. In addition, DDOT officials told us that their obligated unexpended federal-aid balance decreased to $330.8 million as of June 26, 2003, down from $530.5 millio. An unexpended federal-aid balance can result from bridge projects that incur expenses over several years. Finally, our recent review of construction contract processing times showed that average time frames have improved from 21.6 months in fiscal year 1997 through fiscal year 1999 to an average of 19 months in fiscal year 2000 through fiscal year 2002. A new process for design contracts was implemented in fiscal year 2002 that utilizes open-ended contracts from which multiple task orders can be issued. DDOT now issues task orders as needed instead of issuing individual contracts, which involves a more lengthy process. In addition, DDOT officials told us that they are implementing an automated procurement system and a software system that will enhance DDOT's ability to manage its transportation programs.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: GAO's recommendation spawned a number of initiatives at the District's Department of Transportation (DDOT). DDOT conducted a review of and documented its business process. DDOT also started issuing substantive annual reports, which specifies how DDOT measures performance. Both the review of DDOT's business plan and the annual reports were utilized in the formulation of DDOT's strategic plan. The strategic plan identifies performance goals and key practices that should allow DDOT to address the challenges that they face.

    Recommendation: The Mayor of the District of Columbia should direct and support the Director of the District Department of Transportation as he develops and implements a comprehensive plan for its transformation that reflects key practices and addresses the challenges the agency is facing. Such a comprehensive plan should include implementation goals, measures, and a time line to show progress toward the agency's transformation.

    Agency Affected: District of Columbia


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