Transit Grants:

Need for Improved Predictability, Data, and Monitoring in Application Processing

RCED-00-260: Published: Aug 30, 2000. Publicly Released: Sep 29, 2000.

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Jayetta Hecker
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Federal Transit Administration's (FTA) administration of transit grants, focusing on: (1) the timeliness and consistency of FTA's processing of grant applications; (2) the number of applications for labor protection certifications for which the Department of Labor's (DOL) processing time extended beyond 60 days and the factors contributing to any processing delays; and (3) the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) in connection with DOL's certification process.

GAO noted that: (1) FTA's data demonstrate that it processed less than half of the transit grant applications within its informal 90-day goal during the 21-month period from October 1998 through June 2000; (2) on average, the time that FTA spent in processing the approximately 1,800 applications during this period was 136 days; (3) furthermore, only 1 of FTA's 10 regional offices had an average processing time of less than 90 days; (4) FTA's headquarters officials told GAO that they have not analyzed why the agency's informal goal is often not met or why there are differences in regional processing times; (5) from January 1996 through April 2000, DOL provided a labor protection certification for 93 percent of the transit grant applications within 60 days of receipt from FTA; (6) for the 7 percent that took longer than 60 days, the most common factor contributing to processing delays was the submittal of an incomplete application; (7) of the 273 applications that took more than 60 days to process, 117 were suspended for this reason; (8) delays in processing grant applications also occur when an applicant or labor union objects to the labor protection terms and conditions proposed by DOL--105 of the 273 applications were delayed for this reason; (9) representatives of the transit community have suggested that APA should apply to the DOL certification process in order to improve the accessibility and consistency of DOL's decisions; (10) however, the transit community is concerned that some APA procedures could lengthen the grant approval process and further delay the release of grant funds; (11) to further the objectives of disclosure and consistency in its labor certification process, DOL could take actions without applying specific APA procedures that could lengthen the grant approval process; (12) when transit applications are not processed in a timely manner, transit benefits are delayed, and transportation needs are not met; (13) in addition, the lack of predictability and consistency in processing times can make planning and project execution difficult for applicants; (14) a periodic assessment of its grant application process, including DOL's certification of labor protection arrangements, would provide a basis for FTA to identify and address processing delays and problems; and (15) in addition, it would enable FTA to provide the transit community and others with information on the status of grant applications.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FTA established a 90-day goal for processing and approving all capital, planning and operating grants. This processing goal was announced by FTA in its 2001 Apportionment and Allocations Federal Register Notice. FTA is monitoring its grant processing times through a report that documents these times for key grant programs and its regional offices.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should establish formal goals for processing transit grant applications and monitor the status of grant applications.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: To help ensure that DOT's Federal Transit Administration (FTA) and the Department of Labor (DOL) transit application data bases are comparable, DOL discontinued routine partial certifications requiring that grants be split into two numbers. In addition, on January 29, 2001, FTA issued its first periodic report documenting grant processing times for major FTA grant programs. This report compares FTA's processing times to the agency's 90-day processing goal by FTA program and regional office. The report also documents the processing time for DOL certifications.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation, in cooperation with the Secretary of Labor, should: (1) take action to ensure that both departments' transit application databases are comparable and reliable; and (2) periodically assess the status and timeliness of federal transit application processing by both departments, provide data on the exceptions where the goals have not been met, and report the results of this assessment along with measures to implement any needed improvements to Congress.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation


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