Federal-Aid Highway Program

Impact of the District of Columbia Emergency Highway Relief Act Gao ID: RCED-97-162 June 30, 1997

By 1995, the District of Columbia's financial condition had deteriorated to a point where the city was having serious difficulty funding its transportation program, which includes the design, construction, and maintenance of streets, bridges, and highways. The District's use of local funds to help pay past bond obligations resulted in a lack of funding for local highway projects and culminated in a lack of matching funds for securing funds under the Federal-Aid Highway Program. With the urging of the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), Congress temporarily waived the matching share requirement for funds spent on federal-aid highway projects from August 1995 through September 1996, thereby providing the District with a 14-month window of opportunity. The District is required to establish a dedicated highway fund to repay the waived amounts and to make future matching share payments. This report discusses (1) the extent to which the District took advantage of the opportunity for the federal government to pay 100 percent of eligible project's costs expended during the waiver period, (2) whether the District's efforts to streamline its contract award process have reduced the time frames to process and execute federal-aid highway contracts, and (3) whether the District has implemented FHWA's recommendations for improving the ability of the D.C. Department of Public Works to carry out its federal-aid highway program.

GAO noted that: (1) the District used the waiver authority for 62 of the 98 projects it designated as eligible for the waiver; (2) the federal government reimbursed the District $55.5 million for the eligible projects' costs expended during the 14-month waiver period; (3) of this amount, the District's matching share waived by the act was $10.2 million; (4) the District's efforts to streamline its contract award process have improved the time frame to execute federal-aid highway contracts over $1 million; (5) when the District agreed to implement a pilot program to streamline the external review and approval process in June 1996, the District's goal was to shorten the time frame for the process to 45 days, which is typical for other recipients of federal-aid highway funds; (6) for contracts processed since the act became law, the average time to execute contracts over $1 million decreased, from 183 days to 92 days, and the average time to execute contracts under $1 million increased slightly; (7) unless efforts are made to streamline DPW's internal contract award procedures, the District has little chance of achieving the 45-day contract award goal; (8) the District has implemented two of the seven agreed-upon priority recommendations in FHwA's April 1996 technical assistance report involving changes made to the contract award process and to project programming and tracking; (9) DPW has not taken action on the other five priority recommendations, which include modifying its budget implementation process, increasing funding for operations and maintenance, increasing its staff levels, developing and implementing staff-training programs, or procuring additional computer and software support; (10) according to District officials, the District government's budget and personnel ceiling constraints affect the District's ability to implement some recommendations; (11) District officials acknowledged that they have not focused attention on these recommendations but, instead, on restructuring DPW's organization, including developing a performance-based management system, and addressing a White House proposal for changes in the District's transportation program; (12) the District has neither developed a plan to systematically implement the recommendations nor monitored the implementation of the technical assistance recommendations; and (13) in response to GAO's review, District officials have recently begun to determine the status of each recommendation and to develop and document their plans for implementing each.


Our recommendations from this work are listed below with a Contact for more information. Status will change from "In process" to "Open," "Closed - implemented," or "Closed - not implemented" based on our follow up work.

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