Over the years, the federal-aid highway program has expanded to encompass broader goals, more responsibilities, and a variety of approaches. As the program grew more complex, the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) oversight role also expanded, while its resources have not kept pace. As GAO has reported, this growth occurred without a well-defined overall vision of evident national interests and the federal role in achieving them. GAO has recommended Congress consider restructuring federal surface transportation programs, and for this and other reasons, funding surface transportation remains on GAO’s high-risk list.
GAO observed cases where FHWA was lax in its oversight or reluctant to take corrective action to bring states back into compliance with federal requirements, potentially resulting in improper or ineffective use of federal funds. For example, while FHWA has made it a national priority to recoup funds from inactive highway projects—projects that have not expended funds for over 1 year—FHWA officials in three states we visited were reluctant to do so because of concerns about harming their partnership with the state. In other cases, FHWA has shown a lack of independence in decisions, putting its partners’ interests above federal interests. For example, FHWA allowed two states to retain unused emergency relief allocations to fund new emergencies, despite FHWA’s policy that these funds are made available to other states with potentially higher-priority emergencies.Read the full report