A Government Accountability Office (GAO) report has found that the Department of Transportation (DOT) has no screening procedure for recipients of grant money from a $4.2 billion program.
As no standardized procedure exists for deciding which contractors to employ, merit was regularly cast aside 50 percent of the time in favor of other low-ranked projects. However, no documentation exists as to why officials made this calculation. The practice continues, even though the goal of the program is to promote competition in the grant process. Exactly 271 grants have been given out by the program since in 2009, totaling $4.2 billion.
This most recent GAO report follows a series of reports, one of which in May highlighted that officials assigned rankings and then retroactively boosted them on 19 projects, drawing fire from Congress.
“In 2011, we concluded that it was critical that DOT…fairly and expertly administer a multi-modal, multi-billion dollar discretionary program. However, a continued lack of documentation of key decisions, as we found in the first and the fifth funding rounds, can give rise to challenges to the integrity of the evaluation process and leave DOT vulnerable to criticism concerning the rationale for the decisions made,” the report stated.
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The DOT currently has no way to determine whether its grants are producing effective outcomes. There is no framework for analysis available, and so the report notes that there is uncertainty whether federal investment is justifiable in these circumstances, given that the DOT has no way of assessing results.
But according to DOT spokesman Ryan Daniels, while there is room for improvement, “the projects we funded last year will provide benefits to the nation for decades to come. The department has already developed reforms to address the documentation deficiencies identified by the GAO and those reforms are being fully implemented.”
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