Audit Reports

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Improvements Are Needed To Strengthen the Benefit-Cost Analysis Process for the TIGER Discretionary Grant Program

Self-Initiated
Project ID: 
ST2018028

What We Looked At
Since its establishment in 2009, the Office of the Secretary’s (OST) Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant program has provided billions of dollars for infrastructure improvements and economic development. As part of the selection process for TIGER awards, OST evaluates each applicant’s project benefit-cost analysis (BCA), which shows the project’s economic benefits. Prior to fiscal year 2016, projects that did not demonstrate net economic benefits were disqualified, but for fiscal year 2016 and after, lack of economic benefit did not automatically disqualify projects. We conducted this audit because of the importance of BCAs to TIGER grant awardee selection. Our objective was to assess OST’s policies and procedures for evaluating BCAs in determining which TIGER grant applications are forwarded for further review. We assessed the BCA process for the fiscal years’ 2015 and 2016 rounds. 

What We Found
During round 2015, OST’s BCA reviews generally met Federal guidelines but reviewers’ approaches were not standardized. Specifically, reviews did not include standardized elements such as actions allowable when applications lack information and length of review time. OST also had no procedures for BCA documentation and as a result, not all reviewers retained his or her review notes. Furthermore, OST reassessed 47 projects and determined that the BCA review findings of costs that outweighed benefits for 20 of them were questionable. While these 20 projects were forwarded to the Secretary as eligible for award, we found that the reassessment work lacked required elements of systematic review. For round 2016, OST implemented a standardized review template and a responsible official to finalize reviews, but did not update TIGER’s written policy to include these changes. This lack of standardized BCA reviews limits OST’s ability to make the process fair and transparent so applicants can make informed decisions when preparing their applications.

Our Recommendations
We made four recommendations to help OST ensure equity and consistency in the BCA review process. OST concurs with all four recommendations.

Recommendations

Open

Closed

No. 1 to OST

Provide detailed guidance for consistent BCA reviews, including whether reviewers should perform research to correct or complete missing information in project applications.

No. 2 to OST

Establish and implement requirements regarding how BCA reviewers should document and maintain support for their reviews.

No. 3 to OST

Define the C&C team's role in the BCA review process to include the necessary steps to carry out a systematic review.

No. 4 to OST

Revise policy and guidance to include the standardized BCA review template and the requirement that a single responsible official finalize BCA reviews.