Transportation-Disadvantaged Populations:

Federal Coordination Efforts Could Be Further Strengthened

GAO-12-647: Published: Jun 20, 2012. Publicly Released: Jun 20, 2012.

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What GAO Found

Eighty federal programs are authorized to fund transportation services for the transportation disadvantaged, but transportation is not the primary mission of most of the programs GAO identified. Of these, the Department of Transportation administers 7 programs that support public transportation. The remaining 73 programs are administered by 7 other federal agencies and provide a variety of human services, such as job training, education, or medical care, which incorporate transportation as an eligible expense in support of program goals. Total federal spending on transportation services for the transportation disadvantaged remains unknown because, in many cases, federal departments do not separately track spending for these services. However, total funding for the 28 programs that do track or estimate transportation spending, including obligations and expenditures, was at least $11.8 billion in fiscal year 2010.

The interagency Coordinating Council on Access and Mobility, which the Secretary of Transportation chairs, has led governmentwide transportation coordination efforts since 2003. The Coordinating Council has undertaken a number of activities through its “United We Ride” initiative aimed at improving coordination at the federal level and providing assistance for state and local coordination. For example, its 2005 Report to the President on Human Service Transportation Coordination outlined collective and individual department actions and recommendations to decrease duplication, enhance efficiencies, and simplify access for consumers. Key challenges to federal interagency coordination efforts include a lack of activity at the leadership level of the Coordinating Council in recent years—the Coordinating Council leadership has not met since 2008—and the absence of key guidance documents for furthering agency coordination efforts. For example, the Coordinating Council lacks a strategic plan that contains agency roles and responsibilities, measurable outcomes, or required follow-up. GAO has previously reported that defining and articulating a common outcome and reinforcing agency accountability through agency plans and reports are important elements for agencies to enhance and sustain collaborative efforts.

State and local officials GAO interviewed use a variety of planning and service coordination efforts to serve the transportation disadvantaged. Efforts include state coordinating councils, regional and local planning, one-call centers, mobility managers, and vehicle sharing. For example, state coordinating councils provide a forum for federal, state, and local agencies to discuss and resolve problems related to the provision of transportation services to the transportation disadvantaged. In other examples, one-call centers can provide clients with transportation program information and referrals for appropriate service providers and mobility managers may serve many functions—as policy coordinators, operations service brokers, and customer travel navigators. However, state and local governments face several challenges in coordinating these services—including insufficient federal leadership, changes to state legislation and policies that may hamper coordination efforts, and limited financial resources in the face of growing disadvantaged populations.

Why GAO Did This Study

Millions of Americans are unable to provide their own transportation or have difficulty accessing public transportation. Such transportation-disadvantaged individuals may include those who are elderly, have disabilities, or have low incomes. The Departments of Education, Health and Human Services (HHS), Labor (DOL), Transportation (DOT), Veterans Affairs (VA), and other federal agencies may provide funds to state and local entities to help these individuals access human service programs. As requested, GAO examined (1) federal programs that may fund transportation services for the transportation disadvantaged; (2) federal coordination efforts undertaken since 2003; and (3) coordination at the state and local levels. GAO analyzed information from the Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance; interviewed federal officials; and interviewed state and local officials in five states, chosen based on a variety of characteristics, including geographic diversity.

What GAO Recommends

To promote and enhance federal, state, and local coordination activities, the Secretary of Transportation and the Coordinating Council should meet to (1) complete and publish a strategic plan; and (2) report on progress of recommendations made by the Council in its 2005 Report to the President and develop a plan to address outstanding recommendations. Education and VA agreed with GAO’s recommendations. HHS, DOL, DOT, and other federal agencies neither agreed nor disagreed with the report. Technical comments were incorporated as appropriate.

For more information, contact David J. Wise at (202) 512-2834 or wised@gao.gov.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Access to transportation services is essential for millions of Americans to participate fully in society and be able to access human services, including health, education, and job training programs. However, many individuals are unable to provide their own transportation or have difficulty accessing public transportation due to their age, disability, or income constraints. Previously, GAO has identified a myriad of federal programs that are authorized to use federal funds for transportation services to assist these "transportation-disadvantaged" individuals in accessing human service programs. In June 2012, GAO reported that an Interagency Transportation Coordinating Council on Access and Mobility (Coordinating Council), chaired by the Department of Transportation (DOT), had been charged with leading governmentwide transportation coordination efforts since 2003. While GAO found that some federal agencies had coordination efforts under way in 2012, there were still several challenges to the Coordinating Council's interagency coordination efforts, including the absence of key Coordinating Council guidance documents for furthering agency coordination efforts, including a strategic plan. GAO reported that without a plan to help reinforce agency goals and responsibilities, the Coordinating Council may be hampered in articulating a strategy to help strengthen interagency collaboration and lack the elements needed to remain a viable interagency effort. To promote and enhance coordination activities, GAO recommended that the Secretary of Transportation, as the chair of the Coordinating Council, along with its member agencies, complete and publish a strategic plan which should, among other things, clearly outline agency roles and responsibilities and articulate a strategy to help strengthen interagency collaboration and communication. In 2012, DOT and the Coordinating Council's member agencies responded to this recommendation by issuing a strategic plan for 2011-2013, which established agency roles and responsibilities and identified a shared strategy to reinforce cooperation. For example, the Coordinating Council's member agencies agreed to, among other things, demonstrate federal leadership on transportation coordination through: 1. Providing Policy Leadership: develop, promote, and implement effective human service transportation policy that enables local- and state-level coordination practices and supports national priorities. 2. Practicing Interagency Collaboration: work with federal agencies to coordinate federal transportation programs and policies. The Coordinating Council's strategic plan outlines specific action steps and performance indicators for the Coordinating Council member agencies to take in order to accomplish these objectives, among several others. As a result, the Coordinating Council's new plan articulates a strategy that will help strengthen interagency collaboration and reinforce agency goals and responsibilities.

    Recommendation: To promote and enhance federal, state, and local coordination activities, the Secretary of Transportation, as the chair of the Coordinating Council on Access and Mobility, and the Secretaries of the Departments of Agriculture, Education, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, Labor, and Veterans Affairs, as member agencies of the Coordinating Council, should meet and complete and publish a strategic plan for the Coordinating Council, which should, among other things, clearly outline agency roles and responsibilities and articulate a strategy to help strengthen interagency collaboration and communication.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  2. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions DOT has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: To promote and enhance federal, state, and local coordination activities, the Secretary of Transportation, as the chair of the Coordinating Council on Access and Mobility, and the Secretaries of the Departments of Agriculture, Education, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, Labor, and Veterans Affairs, as member agencies of the Coordinating Council, should meet and report on the progress of Coordinating Council recommendations made as part of its 2005 Report to the President on Implementation of Executive Order 13330 and develop a plan to address any outstanding recommendations, including the development of a cost-sharing policy endorsed by the Coordinating Council and the actions taken by member agencies to increase federal program grantee participation in locally developed, coordinated planning processes.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

 

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