Assessment of the Department of Transportation's Systems Safety Plan

RCED-83-32: Published: Dec 21, 1982. Publicly Released: Dec 28, 1982.

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In response to a congressional request, GAO reported on its assessment of the Department of Transportation's (DOT) Systems Safety Plan as a management document, the extent to which it is supported by studies or other documentation, and the legality of the enforcement philosophy discussed in the plan.

GAO found that the plan describes goals for improved railroad safety and the general approach which the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has adopted to meet those goals. However, GAO noted that: (1) the plan is a very general document that is primarily a statement of principles and does not propose actions, explain how safety objectives are to be carried out, or identify how progress is to be evaluated; (2) there is little relationship between the plan and the studies performed as part of the plan's background and development; and (3) since the plan lacks specific enforcement standards, FRA might not take enforcement action when it should. GAO believes that, by giving FRA the discretionary prerogative not to invoke the penalty provisions of safety statutes, the plan is quite limited and is so vague and lacking in specific standards that it provides no assurance that enforcement action will be taken in situations where they are required.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOT believes that a successful safety program depends on the inspectors' ability to exercise sound discretion in selecting enforcement tools at their disposal. Specific standards on how prosecutorial discretion is to be exercised would not allow the inspector to use his discretion.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should require the Administrator, FRA, to develop specific standards to guide its inspectors on how prosecutorial discretion is to be exercised within the framework of the Systems Safety Plan.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation


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