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Gaps in FHWA’s Guidance and the Florida Division’s Process for Risk-Based Project Involvement May Limit Their Effectiveness

Requested by the Secretary of Transportation; Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation; and members of the Florida delegation to the House of Representatives
Project ID: 
ST2020035
What We Looked At
After the fatal collapse of a pedestrian bridge at Florida International University (FIU) on March 15, 2018, the Secretary of Transportation and the Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation asked us to review DOT’s oversight role in the FIU project. In July 2018, citing safety concerns, three Florida members of the House of Representatives asked us to examine DOT’s role in a project to improve Interstate 4 in Orlando. Within DOT, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) had primary responsibility for both projects and designated them for greater oversight under its risk-based stewardship and oversight framework. Thus, we initiated this audit to assess FHWA’s oversight of transportation projects in Florida, with a focus on the FIU and I-4 projects.
 
What We Found
While FHWA has general guidance for implementing its framework for risk-based project involvement Agency-wide, it does not clearly explain how FHWA Divisions should assess and document project risks, use experts to evaluate technical risks, or help Division staff determine when greater oversight is warranted. The lack of a fully developed process could reduce the effectiveness of FHWA’s risk-based oversight for Florida projects. In addition, FHWA’s guidance and the Florida Division’s process lack details to help staff develop effective risk-based project oversight plans. For example, the Florida Division does not always clearly define its role in the plans or their associated documentation. As a result, FHWA’s risk-based project oversight plans do not provide a complete record of the Agency’s involvement or help management determine if that involvement is adding value—a core principle of the FHWA framework. Finally, FHWA Headquarters lacks a process for monitoring and evaluating the impact of its risk-based project involvement, which limits the Agency’s ability to determine if it is achieving its goal—to improve projects and make efficient and targeted use of its limited resources.
 
Our Recommendations
We made eight recommendations to improve FHWA’s guidance and the Florida Division’s process for risk-based project involvement. FHWA concurred with six recommendations and partially concurred with two. We consider all eight recommendations resolved but open pending completion of planned actions.

Recommendations

Open

Closed

Closed on 02.22.2021
No. 1 to FHWA

Update and implement FHWA's guidance for risk-based project involvement to clarify the requirements for its project risk-assessment process, including expectations for conducting and documenting the risk assessment and criteria to guide the reevaluation of project risks.

Closed on 02.22.2021
No. 2 to FHWA

Identify and notify Divisions about sources of information that can inform the project risk-assessment process, such as the quarterly reports required by the grant agreement for the Florida International University project.

No. 3 to FHWA

Update and issue a procedure within the Florida Division for conducting and documenting complete project risk assessments in accordance with FHWA's national guidance.

Closed on 02.22.2021
No. 4 to FHWA

Update and implement FHWA's guidance for risk-based project involvement to clarify how the link between elevated risks and associated oversight activities, changes to oversight actions, and the results of its risk-based involvement should be documented in project oversight plans.

Closed on 02.22.2021
No. 5 to FHWA

Develop and implement guidance for documenting, in risk-based project oversight plans and associated materials, the scope of FHWA's risk-based involvement, such as through the use of checklists or standardized forms.

Closed on 02.22.2021
No. 6 to FHWA

Develop and implement guidance that establishes criteria for the content of risk-based project oversight plans to maintain consistency and avoid creating multiple redundant plans. Include examples of complete project oversight plans that can be used as a reference, and clarify the role and purpose of the oversight plan for major projects.

No. 7 to FHWA

Update and issue a procedure within the Florida Division for documenting complete risk-based project oversight plans in accordance with FHWA's national guidance.

No. 8 to FHWA

Develop and implement a process to routinely monitor the implementation and evaluate the effectiveness of FHWA's risk-based project involvement.