May 1, 2019
Directed by the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act of 2015
Stronger Guidance and Internal Controls Would Enhance DOT’s Management of Highway and Vehicle Safety R&D Agreements
What We Looked At
Research and development (R&D) is vital to advancing technology that can improve vehicle safety. From fiscal years 2012 to 2016, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), and the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Research and Technology (OST-R) awarded grants and cooperative agreements involving highway and vehicle safety R&D with a total maximum value of $501 million in Federal funds. In 2015, the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act directed our office to review the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) management and oversight of cooperative agreements and cooperative research and development agreements (CRADA), including R&D agreements between DOT and foreign governments. Our audit objective was to assess the Department’s policies and procedures for selecting and overseeing its highway and vehicle safety R&D agreements, including grants, cooperative agreements, and CRADAs.
What We Found
DOT can strengthen its policies and procedures for awarding and overseeing highway and vehicle safety R&D agreements. First, FHWA and NHTSA do not always follow DOT guidance or Governmentwide requirements for awarding R&D agreements with for-profit recipients, and the Agencies lack guidance which specifically addresses awarding R&D agreements with foreign recipients. Second, NHTSA did not follow DOT policy when it approved the award of cooperative agreements—worth a combined maximum total of $93.7 million—without full and open competition. Third, while FHWA, NHTSA, and OST-R have taken steps to strengthen their oversight of R&D agreements, some gaps remain. For example, OST-R does not routinely review support for grantee cost reimbursements; NHTSA lacks policies and procedures for managing high-dollar R&D agreements; and FHWA paid invoices that did not meet minimum requirements. Based on our findings and statistical projections, we identified $1.6 million in funds that could be put to better use. As a result of weaknesses in its policies and internal controls, DOT may not be able to ensure that it is receiving the best value when awarding new agreements and minimizing the risk of fraud, waste, or abuse of R&D funds.
We made 15 recommendations to the Department to improve its management of highway and vehicle safety R&D agreements, including one recommendation that could put $1.6 million to better use. The Department concurred with 13 recommendations and did not concur with 2.