NEPA: FRA Coordinates as Required but Opportunities Exist to Modernize Procedures and Improve Project Delivery
On December 5, 2013 we issued a report that assessed the procedures the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has in place to administer the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). As part of its $10.1 billion High Speed Intercity Passenger Rail Program, FRA collaborates with project grantees, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), and the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) on both construction and compliance with NEPA’s requirements. Federal agencies are required to follow regulations established by the President’s Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) and develop procedures as necessary to ensure proper consideration of environmental concerns in agency decision-making. As such, we conducted this review to (1) assess FRA’s procedures for coordination with FHWA and FTA to ensure compliance with NEPA requirements, and (2) determine whether the procedures incorporate relevant statutory requirements and CEQ guidance. We found that FRA coordinates with FHWA and FTA in compliance with NEPA, and is working with the Office of the Secretary of Transportation to further enhance coordination on the Department’s multimodal projects. However, we also found FRA’s implementing procedures are outdated and limited. Because the Agency has not updated most of its implementing procedures since 1999, requirements from subsequent statutes and recommended CEQ guidance have not been included. In addition, FRA is still developing standard operating procedures for its staff to use in NEPA process administration and to help ensure consistency in the environmental documentation that grantees submit. We made two recommendations to FRA to improve its compliance with the NEPA process. The Agency concurred with both recommendations.