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Fully Implementing a Grants Management Framework Will Enhance FRA’s Amtrak Funding Oversight

Self-Initiated
Project ID: 
ST2021027
What We Looked At
The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) provides the National Railroad Passenger Corporation (Amtrak) with funds appropriated by Congress—approximately $2 billion for fiscal year 2020 and over $3.7 billion in supplemental appropriations for the response to the Coronavirus Disease 2019 pandemic. Congress has also authorized FRA to use a portion of the annual Amtrak appropriations for its grant administration and oversight. Given FRA’s role in overseeing this large Federal investment, we initiated this audit to assess FRA’s program to oversee Amtrak’s use of Federal funding.
 
What We Found
FRA has not fully adopted a grants management framework for its Amtrak oversight program. It lacks measurable goals and metrics, complete policies and procedures to assess Amtrak’s adherence to requirements, and a centralized grants management system. In 2017, FRA began to develop a strategic vision and focus areas for its Amtrak agreements but has not formalized measurable goals or metrics to assess progress in meeting them. Furthermore, FRA’s policies and procedures are incomplete on documenting, tracking, and taking action on Amtrak noncompliance that FRA identifies during monitoring. Finally, FRA does not fully use its centralized grant information system to document and analyze findings from its monitoring reviews of Amtrak. According to FRA officials, the program’s strategic framework and policies and procedures are incomplete because FRA focused first on improving the information Amtrak provides; these improvements enhanced FRA’s ability to understand Amtrak’s use of Federal funding. Officials also indicated that Amtrak’s unique legal status limits actions FRA can take to prompt Amtrak to remedy problems the Agency identifies and Amtrak’s reporting requirements present challenges for FRA to adapt its grants management information system to help oversee Amtrak’s Federal funding. These weaknesses may hinder FRA’s ability to assess its program’s effectiveness, improve the program, and maximize returns on investment in Amtrak
 
Recommendations
FRA concurred with our four recommendations to help improve its oversight of Amtrak’s use of Federal funding. We consider these recommendations resolved but open pending completion of planned actions.

Recommendations

Open

Closed

No. 1 to FRA

Establish and implement measurable goals and metrics for assessing the effectiveness of the oversight program.

No. 2 to FRA

Complete and implement procedures for systematically tracking issues identified through reviews of Amtrak's use of Federal funds and compliance with cooperative agreements.

No. 3 to FRA

Finalize and implement procedures for taking action to address Amtrak's noncompliance with cooperative agreement terms and conditions.

No. 4 to FRA

Implement the plan to complete information system improvements and centralize Amtrak oversight data in accordance with established milestones.