May 12, 2020
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
Gaps in FHWA’s Guidance and the Florida Division’s Process for Risk-Based Project Involvement May Limit Their Effectiveness
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.
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.