The Department of Transportation should establish better procedures for its TIGER grant program in regard to application evaluations, project selection and how the department addresses late applications, according to a report by the Government Accountability Office.
The department’s grant program, which has given $3.6 billion to states for various transportation projects since 2009, is now on its sixth funding round. Funding decisions for the latest round, which will award $600 million to various projects, are expected to be released in the coming months.
The office first reviewed the TIGER program in 2011. Back then, it “found that DOT 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.”
This practice, GAO said at the time, opened the process up to challenges that DOT was awarding prizes not solely based on merit. At the time, the agency asked DOT to document its review process, step by step. In its current report, the GAO found that some of that documentation was missing.
“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,” GAO wrote in its report.
The agency would like the DOT to address what happens to applications submitted after the deadline, and why some projects with lower ratings were selected over those with higher scores. DOT also needs to document, it said, the decision to “change the technical ratings of lower-rated projects selected for funding to the highest technical rating category.”
In a letter from the Department of Transportation’s Brodi Fontenot, assistant secretary for administration, included in the report, he noted that challenges with the grant website, the combination of a late appropriation with a hard deadline, and the loss of personnel that served in key positions lead to a ballooning of the issues.
Fontenot continued that DOT has already revised some TIGER procedures. These changes include “newly issued guidelines that provide enhanced specificity to processes and documentation requirements for reasons to advance lower-rated projects” and a change in focus toward identifying the best projects in each mode instead of the best projects in each region. Fontenot explained that this modal focus would “encourage a comparison among similar types of projects.”