Department of Transportation:

University Research Activities Need Greater Oversight

RCED-94-175: Published: May 13, 1994. Publicly Released: May 19, 1994.

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John H. Anderson, Jr
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Department of Transportation's (DOT) management and oversight of university research activities, focusing on: (1) all awards made by DOT and its operating administrations for fiscal years (FY) 1991 through 1993, particularly university awards for which Congress earmarked DOT funds; (2) how DOT and its operating administrations plan and track university research activities; and (3) how DOT oversees the financial aspects of university research awards.

GAO found that: (1) during FY 1991 through 1993, 141 universities received 608 awards from DOT totalling $190 million; (2) 63 percent of the awards included overhead costs that totalled 20 percent of the total funds; (3) Congress earmarked $178 million in DOT funds to 46 universities or related facilities, of which DOT had obligated $110 million as of September 30, 1993; (4) DOT investment in university research activities has increased 470 percent from FY 1988 through 1993; (5) DOT cannot ensure that its research contracts contribute to advancing technology or that it does not fund duplicative and unnecessary research, since its planning for research activities is diverse and fragmented; (6) although DOT has several systems to track award spending, the systems do not provide complete and accurate information on the total number or purpose of university research awards; (7) as recommended by the National Performance Review, DOT is developing an integrated national transportation research and development plan; (8) DOT is considering developing a centralized database to track its university research projects; and (9) DOT has provided limited financial oversight of its university awards, which has resulted in inadequate management control of the award process, overcharges and questionable costs, and grantees' noncompliance with cost-sharing arrangements.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Department established a database that identifies the locations of university research activities together with the purpose and associated costs for the research. The database includes information for fiscal years 1992, 1993 and 1994. It is to be updated each fiscal year to reflect actual obligations for each university research project.

    Recommendation: In order to ensure that DOT gets the most benefit from its increasing investment in university research, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Budget and Programs to complete the development of a departmentwide database to track the purpose and costs associated with each university research award and determine how best to maintain and operate the database.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Department completed its evaluation of the Coast Guard acquisition process and issued a final report in August 1996. A grant management manual for the Department was approved on September 5, 1995. Also, the Department worked with OMB to issue Circular A-133, Grant Management Supplement, in June 1997, that addressed audit coverage of indirect costs. Finally, a training program for grants managers is planned for the summer of 1998. However, since no other evaluations are planned, the Department's action falls short of reinstituting an evaluation process, as called for in the recommendation.

    Recommendation: In order to ensure that DOT gets the most benefit from its increasing investment in university research, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Office of Acquisition and Grant Management to reinstitute its evaluation process and ensure that the operating administrations have adequate policies and procedures for managers to carry out their responsibilities for monitoring awards, especially in the area of indirect costs.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation


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