Surface Transportation:

Actions Needed to Improve Documentation of Key Decisions in the TIGER Discretionary Grant Program

GAO-14-628R: Published: May 28, 2014. Publicly Released: May 28, 2014.

Additional Materials:

Contact:

Susan A. Fleming
(202) 512-2834
flemings@gao.gov

 

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800
youngc1@gao.gov

What GAO Found

The Department of Transportation (DOT) did not document key decisions made in evaluating grant applications and selecting projects during the fifth round of the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) discretionary grant program, and deviated from DOT’s established procedures and recognized internal control practices. Specifically, DOT did not document key decisions to (1) accept and review applications received after the published deadline; (2) advance projects with lower technical ratings instead of more highly-rated projects, and its procedures were inconsistent with DOT’s internal guidelines; and (3) change the technical ratings of lower-rated projects selected for funding to the highest technical rating category. According to Standards for Internal Control in the Federal Government, all transactions and other significant events need to be clearly documented and that the documentation should be readily available for examination. An absence of documentation of such decisions can give rise to challenges to the integrity of the evaluation process and the rationale for the decisions that DOT made.

Why GAO Did This Study

Since 2009, DOT has awarded about $3.6 billion in TIGER grants to states, local governments, and other entities for highway, transit, rail, and port projects expected to have a significant impact on the nation, a metropolitan area, or a region. To date, DOT has completed five annual funding rounds for the TIGER program, and, at the time of this report, is reviewing grant applications to award $600 million through a sixth TIGER funding round with award decisions expected to be announced in the coming months. In GAO’s 2011 review of DOT’s first TIGER funding round, GAO found that DOT developed comprehensive selection criteria and a competitive process for evaluating applications but it did not document key decisions, including its rationale for selecting projects with lower technical ratings for half the awards over more highly-rated ones. GAO noted that the absence of such documentation can give rise to challenges to the integrity of DOT’s selection decisions and subject it to criticism that it selected projects for reasons other than merit. GAO recommended that DOT document key decisions for all major steps in the review process. As part of this report, GAO has examined the extent to which DOT followed its grant application evaluation process and documented key decisions in the fifth TIGER funding round in fiscal year 2013.

What GAO Recommends

GAO recommends that DOT establish additional accountability measures for management of the TIGER program including clear procedures for addressing late-arriving applications and for documenting and approving major decisions in the application evaluation and project selection process.

For more information, contact Susan Fleming at 202-512-2834 or flemings@gao.gov.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In 2014, GAO reported that the Department of Transportation (DOT) did not document key decisions made in evaluating grant applications and selecting projects during the fiscal year 2013 round of the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) discretionary grant program, and deviated from DOT's established procedures and recognized internal control practices. Specifically, DOT did not document key decisions to (1) accept and review applications received after the published deadline; (2) advance projects with lower technical ratings instead of more highly-rated projects, and (3) change the technical ratings of lower-rated projects selected for funding to the highest technical rating category. As a result, GAO recommended that DOT (1) establish clear procedures for addressing late-arriving applications and (2) document and approve major decisions in the application evaluation and project selection process through a decision memorandum or similar mechanism that provides a clear rationale for decisions to, among other things advance applications for senior-level review other than those rated as highly recommended and to not advance applications rated as highly recommended. In 2018, GAO confirmed that DOT had taken sufficient action to meet the intent of this recommendation. After reviewing DOT's TIGER application evaluation process for the fiscal years 2014 and 2015 funding rounds, GAO determined that DOT has (1) established guidance that it would no longer accept late-arriving TIGER applications or change the technical evaluation ratings for a project throughout the entire review process; and (2) improved its internal procedures for documenting major decisions in its application evaluation process. (GAO did not close this recommendation until 2018 because, in July 2016, the DOT Inspector General initiated a similar audit of the TIGER discretionary grant program reviewing the DOT's policies and procedures for evaluating the benefit-cost analyses prepared by TIGER grant applicants in the 2015 and 2016 funding rounds.) After the Inspector General published its report in February 2018, GAO reviewed DOT's fiscal year 2018 application evaluation guidance and confirmed that DOT had sufficiently memorialized the process and documentation improvements it made in response to GAO's recommendation for future TIGER rounds. For example, the fiscal year 2018 guidance requires that all highly-rated projects be advanced, defines the conditions through which lower rated projects may be advanced, and requires all such decisions be fully documented. In taking these steps, DOT did not require that these decisions be documented through a decision memorandum or similar mechanism, as GAO had recommended. However, taken together, DOT's actions are sufficient to meet the intent of GAO's recommendation to improve DOT's internal procedures for documenting major decisions in the TIGER application evaluation process. As a result, DOT is in a better position to ensure a consistent and transparent process for approving major decisions in the TIGER program during future funding rounds.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should establish additional accountability measures for management of the TIGER program to (1) establish clear procedures for addressing late-arriving applications and communicate its decisions to either accept or reject these applications to the public, and (2) document and approve major decisions in the application evaluation and project selection process through a decision memorandum or similar mechanism that provides a clear rationale for decisions to: (a) advance for senior review applications other than those rated as highly recommended; (b) not advance applications rated as highly recommended; and (c) change the technical evaluation rating of an application.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

 

Explore the full database of GAO's Open Recommendations »

Jan 17, 2019

Dec 20, 2018

Nov 20, 2018

Nov 8, 2018

Oct 3, 2018

Sep 13, 2018

Sep 5, 2018

Jul 30, 2018

Jul 26, 2018

Jul 19, 2018

Looking for more? Browse all our products here