National Bridge Inspection Program: Assessment of FHWA's Implementation of Data-Driven, Risk-Based Oversight
On January 12, 2009 we issued our audit report on FHWA’s implementation of data–driven, risk–based oversight of the National Bridge Inspection Program. Our objectives were to evaluate FHWA’s (1) implementation of a data–driven, risk–based oversight to target bridge safety risks most in need of attention, particularly those related to load ratings and postings and (2) promotion of state use of bridge management systems. Our review found that FHWA made limited progress implementing data–driven, risk–based bridge oversight. Although FHWA’s annual review of state bridge inspection programs assured compliance with Federal standards, it did not incorporate routinely a systematic data–driven approach to identifying, prioritizing, and remediating nationwide bridge safety risks in coordination with states. Additionally, we found that FHWA could strengthen its role in expanding states’ use of bridge management systems, which are computerized systems that prioritize replacement and repair projects and help ensure bridge safety. We recommended that the FHWA Administrator develop and implement minimum requirements for data–driven, risk–based bridge oversight during bridge engineers’ annual NBIS compliance reviews and develop a comprehensive plan to routinely conduct systematic, data–driven analysis to identify nationwide bridge safety risks, prioritize them, and target those higher priority risks for remediation in coordination with states. In implementing the plan, FHWA should (a) direct the Office of Bridge Technology to routinely and systematically identify and prioritize nationwide bridge safety risks and (b) direct the Division Offices to work with states to remediate higher priority nationwide bridge safety risks. We also recommended that FHWA develop a requirement for states to correct promptly data inaccuracies found by FHWA’s NBI data validation program and increase FHWA’s use of element–level data by (a) coordinating with AASHTO to update the standards for element–level data, (b) incorporating AASHTO’s updated standards into the NBIS through the rulemaking process, and (c) developing and implementing a plan to collect element–level data after AASHTO’s updated standards have been incorporated into the NBIS. We further recommended that FHWA initiate a program to collect data regularly on states’ use of bridge management systems, evaluate the data to identify those states most in need of assistance in implementing effective bridge management systems, and target those states for technical assistance and training resources.