Friday, September 25, 2009

Two recent GAO reports of interest

While I generally defer to the NRC "Tappy Grams" e-newsletter to announce new reports and publications, I couldn't hold my breath on these two.

A couple of weeks ago, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report, Metropolitan Planning Organizations: Options Exist to Enhance Transportation Planning Capacity and Federal Oversight (GAO-09-868), looking at the capacity of Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs). My colleague Sheryl summed up this report succinctly: GAO review of what MPOs do and whether they actually improve transportation planning. It also makes recommendations to enhance MPO performance. GAO recognizes that with the imminent expiration of SAFETEA-LU, better information “on the effectiveness of MPOs’ transportation planning activities is needed, especially in light of government and industry associations’ proposals for increasing or modifying MPOs’ authority, responsibilities, and funding.” The report does a good job of explaining what tasks Congress has assigned to MPOs, their funding, and the broad spectrum of MPO characteristics. Particular challenges are the public participation requirements, the lack of authority to implement plans, and obtaining reliable data; also noted were difficulties finding and retaining staff with necessary skills. Suggested statutory changes were discussed, including greater MPO flexibility, authority to implement projects, “an increase in the population threshold for mandatory MPO creation,” increased funding to generate more reliable data, and outcome-based performance requirements.

Hot on the heels of the MPO examination, GAO issued a report looking at the DOT-HUD collaboration on housing and transit, Affordable Housing in Transit-Oriented Development: Key Practices Could Enhance Recent Collaboration Efforts between DOT-FTA and HUD )GAO-09-871). While speaking highly of the agencies' partnership, GAO found "While these interagency efforts have produced numerous strategies, local housing and transit officials told GAO that these strategies had little impact, in part, because they have yet to be implemented. However, the agencies have not yet developed a comprehensive, integrated plan to implement all efforts, and without such a plan, the agencies risk losing momentum. GAO has previously identified key practices that could enhance and sustain collaboration among federal agencies; when compared to these practices, GAO found that HUD, FTA, and DOT have taken some actions consistent with some of these practices--such as defining a common outcome. However, weaknesses in agency housing data and analytical transportation planning methods will limit these agencies' ability to effectively monitor, evaluate, and report results--another key collaboration practice. GAO found that other collaboration practices, such as establishing compatible policies and procedures, could be taken to strengthen collaboration. Finally, without a more formalized approach to collaboration, including establishment of memorandum of agreements, these agencies may not effectively leverage their unique strengths."

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