The Obama administration argues that competitive grants allow the funding of projects that are most deserving, while formula funds (which historically have been used to distribute most federal transportation dollars) aren’t necessarily targeted to the nation’s most critical needs. But a new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report raises questions regarding the integrity of the administration’s grant making process.
Issued Wednesday, the report examines the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grants that are supposed to stimulate the economy as they shore up the nation’s infrastructure. But the GAO found that the administration:
- Funded seven grant applications that were submitted after the deadlines;
- Funded 43 projects with “recommended” or “acceptable” ratings over 22 projects rated “highly recommended”; and
- Adjusted the ratings of seventeen funded projects to “highly recommended” to make it appear that the projects were worthwhile.
These actions, warns the GAO, could “give rise to challenges to the integrity of DOT’s selection decisions and subject it to criticism that it selected projects for reasons other than merit.” Moreover, the report adds, some might be skeptical that “DOT gave preferential treatment to some applicants” despite their late or poorly rated applications.
Peter Rogoff, who is currently Acting Under Secretary of Transportation for Policy, admitted to the GAO that when he was FTA Administrator, “he advocated for advancing a recommended project [instead of one that was highly recommended] because of the unique ability of the project to leverage private investment in critical regional infrastructure.” Sounds like a streetcar project to the Antiplanner.
The Antiplanner has long argued that formula funds are preferable to competitive grants because grants are likely to be based more on politics than actual need. If the federal government is involved in transportation at all, it is better to give the money to the states and let the locals decide how it should be spent. The GAO report provides more evidence for this position.