A recent U.S. Government Accountability Office report has revealed that the U.S. DOT did not document key decisions made in evaluating grant applications and selecting projects during the fifth round of the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) discretionary grant program, and deviated from it’s established procedures and recognized internal control practices.
Specifically, the U.S. DOT did not document key decisions to (1) accept and review applications received after the published deadline; (2) advance projects with lower technical ratings instead of more highly rated projects, and its procedures were inconsistent with DOT’s internal guidelines; and (3) change the technical ratings of lower-rated projects selected for funding to the highest technical rating category.
According to Standards for Internal Control in the Federal Government, all transactions and other significant events need to be clearly documented and that the documentation should be readily available for examination. An absence of documentation of such decisions can give rise to challenges to the integrity of the evaluation process and the rationale for the decisions that DOT made.
Since 2009, the U.S. DOT has awarded about $3.6 billion in TIGER grants to states, local governments and other entities for highway, transit, rail, and port projects expected to have a significant impact on the nation, a metropolitan area, or a region. To date, the U.S. DOT has completed five annual funding rounds for the TIGER program, and, at the time of this report, is reviewing grant applications to award $600 million through a sixth TIGER funding round with award decisions expected to be announced in the coming months.
In GAO’s 2011 review of the U.S. DOT’s first TIGER funding round, GAO found that the agency developed comprehensive selection criteria and a competitive process for evaluating applications but it did not document key decisions, including its rationale for selecting projects with lower technical ratings for half the awards over more highly rated ones. GAO noted that the absence of such documentation could give rise to challenges to the integrity of the U.S. DOT’s selection decisions and subject it to criticism that it selected projects for reasons other than merit. GAO recommended that the U.S. DOT document key decisions for all major steps in the review process. As part of this report, GAO has examined the extent to which the U.S. DOT followed its grant application evaluation process and documented key decisions in the fifth TIGER funding round in fiscal year 2013.
Moving forward, the GAO recommends that the U.S. DOT establish additional accountability measures for management of the TIGER program including clear procedures for addressing late-arriving applications and for documenting and approving major decisions in the application evaluation and project-selection process.