Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration:

Additional Actions Needed to Strengthen Grants Management

GAO-12-158: Published: Dec 13, 2011. Publicly Released: Dec 13, 2011.

Additional Materials:

Contact:

Susan A. Fleming
(202) 512-4431
flemings@gao.gov

 

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800
youngc1@gao.gov

What GAO Found

Prior to fiscal year 2010, FMCSA’s internal controls over management of all of its grant awards were weak, which increased the risk that FMCSA awarded grants that violated laws or FMCSA policies. Internal controls like those related to workforce training and policies and procedures can help provide assurance that operations, including grants management, are efficient and transactions comply with laws. However, FMCSA had only limited formal grants management training, limited documentation of grants management policies and procedures, and, according to FMCSA grants management staff, did not require legal review to help ensure that all awards complied with governing laws and regulations. As a result, FMCSA could not be certain that staff were trained in managing grant awards or followed relevant policies and laws in awarding grants, increasing the risk for mismanagement.

Since fiscal year 2010, FMCSA has taken a number of actions to transform its grants management practices, including planning to centralize oversight through a Grants Management Office, standardizing policies and procedures, developing grants management training, and implementing grants management systems to manage award processes and documentation. While these actions help address some existing internal control weaknesses—for example, clearly documented and standardized policies and procedures should help ensure that grants management staff follow policies when awarding grants—some challenges remain. Specifically, FMCSA has not conducted a strategic workforce analysis that could help it identify and fill gaps in expertise, as well as support its budget request to staff a Grants Management Office. Also, FMCSA’s grants management policies and procedures lack details on some grant program staff’s roles and responsibilities, and the agency does not have a system to easily track and ensure that staff complete required training. The agency also has not set metrics related to its grants management program or developed a method to measure progress in meeting those metrics. Further, since FMCSA has only recently implemented these actions, it is unclear how effective these new initiatives will be in improving its grants management. Regardless, it will be important that the agency have leadership in place that can continue to drive its transformation, as well as metrics to measure its progress in achieving its grants management goals.

Why GAO Did This Study

In 2011, the Department of Transportation (DOT) determined that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) had violated federal appropriations statues in awarding some grants for 1 of its 10 grant programs from fiscal years 2006 to 2010. This was caused in part by weaknesses in FMCSA’s internal controls and may have affected FMCSA’s ability to carry out its mission to reduce motor carrier (large truck and bus) accidents and fatalities. To the extent that these weaknesses existed in FMCSA’s other grant programs, it is possible that FMCSA also incorrectly awarded other grant funds.

As requested, this report examines (1) internal control weaknesses in FMCSA’s other grant programs prior to fiscal year 2010 that could have increased the risk of irregularities in grant awards and (2) FMCSA’s actions to improve grants management, and remaining challenges. GAO analyzed FMCSA grants management documents related to internal controls over grants both before and after fiscal year 2010 and recent actions, and interviewed FMCSA officials.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: Given the importance of FMCSA's grants programs in helping meet the agency's goals, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the FMCSA Administrator, in order to track the progress of its grants management transformation, to create a series of measurable grants management goals and objectives and timelines for completing them, as well as a series of metrics to measure progress in meeting these goals. FMCSA should detail these goals and metrics in its "Grants Management Program Roadmap," track progress in meeting these goals over time, and report to Congress on its progress.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

    Status: Open

    Comments: FMCSA plans to develop a goal oriented grants management strategic plan that will clarify the overall purpose and desired results of the Agency's grant management program, and how those results will be achieved. The strategic plan will include measurable goals for critical areas of grants management and metric's to measure progress for meeting these goals.

    Recommendation: Given the importance of FMCSA's grants programs in helping meet the agency's goals, and to improve its tracking of grants management training, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the FMCSA Administrator to work with the appropriate DOT individuals to modify its training system to allow management to easily determine which staff have taken required training.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FMCSA utilizes the DOT-mandated Training Management System (TMS) to track grants management training. FMCSA partnered with the DOT TMS Administrator to modify TMS to track training. In May 2012, TMS was modified for FMCSA personnel to add a "GM" (grants management) identifier for all relevant FMCSA personnel. As a result, FMCSA can check training histories and assign specific grants management related training to its employees with a grants-related function.

    Recommendation: Given the importance of FMCSA's grants programs in helping meet the agency's goals, and to further improve grants management policies and procedures, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the FMCSA Administrator to add details regarding staff roles and responsibilities in the "Grants Management Manual" so that grants management staff are appropriately informed to manage each program.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Version 3 of FMCSA's Grants Management Manual, which FMCSA issued in April 2013 provides details for relevant roles and responsibilities of grants management staff.

    Recommendation: Given the importance of FMCSA's grants programs in helping meet the agency's goals, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the FMCSA Administrator, in order to better determine its staffing and skill needs for grants management, to conduct a strategic grants management workforce planning evaluation, including an analysis of the needed staff resources for the proposed Grants Management Office (GMO).

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In December 2012, FMCSA completed a strategic grants management workforce planning evaluation conducted by a contractor. This evaluation determined the staffing needs for FMCSA's grants management office and detailed needed skills for grants management staff. FMCSA reported the results of this study to Congress in June 2013.

    Apr 18, 2014

    Apr 8, 2014

    Feb 28, 2014

    Feb 12, 2014

    Feb 5, 2014

    Feb 3, 2014

    Jan 31, 2014

    Jan 16, 2014

    Looking for more? Browse all our products here