Railroad Safety:

FRA's Staffing Model Cannot Estimate Inspectors Needed for Safety Mission

RCED-91-32: Published: Nov 21, 1990. Publicly Released: Dec 5, 1990.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO assessed the Federal Railroad Administration's (FRA) safety inspection program, focusing on the usefulness of the FRA computerized staffing model in developing staffing standards to determine the number of inspectors needed to satisfy the FRA safety mission.

GAO found that: (1) FRA did not know how many inspectors it needed to adequately cover the railroad industry because it lacked fully developed inspector staffing standards; (2) the FRA staffing model's estimate of staffing needs was highly dependent on historical data and budgetary factors, instead of on the staff needed to satisfy its safety mission; (3) previous budget constraints limited the size of the FRA work force, and funding shortfalls prevented FRA from hiring enough staff to meet its authorized level; and (4) without incorporating inspection coverage standards or an inspection strategy to target high-risk railroads into its staffing model, FRA will not have adequate staffing standards to determine the number of inspectors needed to satisfy its safety mission.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FRA's National Inspection Plan incorporates data from several sources to determine where inspections need to be performed to target high-risk locations and railroads with poor safety records. This plan shows where inspectors should be located by discipline. However, FRA does not have the resources to relocate its inspectors according to need. It hopes to eventually redistribute its inspectors through attrition and new hires at the desired locations.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FRA, to develop staffing standards that determine the number of safety inspectors it needs to carry out its safety mission. Such standards should include: (1) a method of calculating the number of inspectors it needs and distributing them by discipline to FRA regional offices; (2) inspection coverage standards that include information on the railroad operations needing inspections, the time required to perform inspections, and the frequency of inspections; and (3) a strategy of using available data to target routine inspections toward high-risk locations and railroads with poor safety records.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation


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