Accelerating project delivery has been a longstanding priority for the Department of Transportation (DOT) and is a key part of the most recent reauthorization for surface transportation programs—the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act. The FAST Act includes a number of provisions intended to streamline the environmental review process for transportation projects. In particular, section 1313 of the act requires DOT to undertake several actions to align Federal environmental reviews such as developing a coordinated and concurrent environmental review and permitting process and a checklist to facilitate interagency collaboration. The FAST Act also directs the Office of Inspector General to report on DOT’s progress in implementing section 1313 and its associated impact. Accordingly, we initiated an audit to (1) determine DOT's progress in aligning Federal environmental reviews and (2) assess the impact of DOT's actions on accelerating the environmental review and permitting process.
What We Found
DOT has completed all the actions required by section 1313 and has met or exceeded the associated deadlines. However, the impact of those actions is limited because the legislation applies to only a small subset of transportation projects. Specifically, section 1313 generally applies only to transportation projects when there is a major action that significantly affects the quality of the human environment, which requires agencies to initiate an environmental impact statement under the National Environmental Policy Act. Additionally, a statutory provision excludes highway, railroad, transit, and multimodal projects, which are subject to other requirements for streamlining environmental reviews. As a result, section 1313 only covers certain aviation and maritime projects. We identified two current aviation projects and no maritime projects that are subject to this section, and the actions mandated by section 1313 do not impose any additional requirements on the covered projects. Nonetheless, the Department has several other initiatives—based on the FAST Act, prior legislation, and executive action—to streamline environmental reviews for transportation projects.
We did not make any recommendations in this report as the data gathered are informational and meant to be responsive to the statutory mandate.