GAO report calls for improvements to FTA's Capital Investment Grants program

Report calls on agency to make its review process more transparent and effective

July 17, 2020
A project extending commuter rail services in California is one of many projects that has received FTA Capital Investment Grants program funding.
A project extending commuter rail services in California is one of many projects that has received FTA Capital Investment Grants program funding. Image: Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit via GAO

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently released a report calling on the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) to make its review process more transparent and effective for the agency's Capital Investment Grants (CIG) program.

The GAO says FTA’s role is to evaluate and rate projects based on statutory criteria and make recommendations to Congress. Those seeking grants must follow a multi-step, multi-year development process during which FTA reviews information about the project.

Highlights from the report say that sponsors of most of the 66 projects in the CIG program told GAO that they have experienced delays moving through at least one aspect of the program's development process. 

Based on GAO's analysis, the causes of delays sponsors reported experiencing during the program's development process were frequently factors unique to each project or local in nature, such as challenges completing agreements with local utility companies or other rail operators.

GAO found that some sponsors reported aspects of FTA's reviews confusing or expected FTA to take action sooner than may be reasonable. GAO found that FTA documents its reviews but, according to several sponsors, did not always communicate decisions to sponsors in a timely manner, taking weeks, months, or longer. Some sponsors also told GAO that they thought FTA was sometimes reluctant to communicate certain decisions, such as the reason why their project was not advancing, to them in writing.

The GAO says it recommends that FTA take steps to: clarify aspects of the methods it uses and factors it considers when reviewing projects; review agency guidance to identify aspects that may be outdated or confusing; and communicate information, such as the reason why a project is not advancing, to sponsors in a timely manner.

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SOURCE: U.S. Government Accountability Office

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