GAO report calls for more consistency, transparency for U.S. DOT's INFRA grant program

The 36-page report comes after the GAO reviewed the grant process for the U.S. DOT

July 22, 2019
U.S. DOT headquarters
Image: U.S. DOT headquarters, courtesy of U.S. DOT

A recently released report regarding the U.S. DOT's Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) program found that it lacked consistency and transparency, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) says.

The 36-page report comes after the GAO reviewed the grant process for the U.S. DOT—which awarded over $1.5 billion in grants for nationally significant freight and highway projects for 2017-2018.

The GAO reviewed the U.S. DOT's documentation of its evaluation process, and interviewed DOT staff and officials, as well as 11 INFRA applicants selected to ensure diversity in projects' size, type, location, and award status, as well as type of applicant.

The GAO says one example of what it claims to be a lack of consistency and transparency within the department was that the U.S. DOT only followed up with 42 out of 97 applications when it discovered those applications were missing information, without sufficiently documenting why it contacted only some of the applicants. "If [U.S.] DOT does not clearly communicate and document its process regarding applicant follow-up, the process lacks transparency and the assurance of fairness," the GAO report states.

Another finding from the GAO report involved the process of evaluating applications. Though U.S. DOT evaluates and scores the submitted projects based on established merit criteria, the report found that information was forwarded to the U.S. DOT Secretary on 165 projects, regardless of how well they scored on the merit criteria. The report says that some projects were awarded even if they did not meet all of the criteria.

The GAO recommends that U.S. DOT should communicate and document its rationale for requesting additional information from applicants. It also says it should provide applicants information on how the department uses merit criteria scores to advance projects through its evaluation and selection process. Lastly, GAO says Congress should consider directing the U.S. DOT to develop and implement transparency measures in the next surface transportation reauthorization bill.

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SOURCE: U.S. Government Accountability Office

IMAGE: U.S. DOT headquarters, courtesy of U.S. DOT

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