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Construction Program Management and Inspection Guide
Policy Memoranda Regarding Stewardship
The issuance of this policy rescinds the June 4, 2001, policy on the same subject, to reflect editorial changes made after final coordination with the division administrators and State agencies.
Federal funding is provided to assist States and Federal Agencies in providing transportation services through the various Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) programs. By law, the nature of the majority of these Federal programs is Federal assistance for State administered programs. The Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 (ISTEA) and the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) increased the role of State Transportation Agencies (STD) in project approvals. These changes did not alter the fact that the FHWA is the Federal Agency responsible for ensuring compliance with Federal requirements in the delivery of the Federal highway program. These changes did affect how FHWA implements this responsibility. The flexibility afforded in the ISTEA and the TEA-21 allowed STDs to assume the Secretary's responsibilities for design, plans, specifications, estimates, contract awards and inspection of many Federal-aid projects. Policy, guidance, training, and other FHWA material implementing the oversight provisions of ISTEA were written to initiate change within the agency regarding our approach to the oversight component of the stewardship of the Federal highway program. However, the implementation of the policies and guidance resulted in inconsistent interpretations of the FHWA responsibility for ensuring compliance on "exempt" projects.
The purpose of this document is to restate the FHWA responsibilities in the delivery of the Federal highway programs.
In order to ensure that this policy statement is consistently interpreted, the following definitions have been established.
Stewardship: The efficient and effective management of the public funds that have been entrusted to the FHWA.
Oversight: The act of ensuring that the Federal highway program is delivered consistent with laws, regulations and policies.
Stewardship reflects our responsibility for the development and implementation of the Federal highway programs. It involves all FHWA activities in delivering the Federal highway program, such as leadership, technology deployment, technical assistance, problem solving, program administration and oversight.
Oversight is the compliance or verification component of FHWA stewardship activities. Narrowly focused, oversight activities ensure that the implementation of these Federal highway programs is done in accordance with the applicable laws, regulations, and policies. More broadly focused, oversight activities enable the FHWA to ensure the effective delivery and operation of the transportation system envisioned in our base statutes.
In short, it must be recognized that Congress and the public hold the FHWA accountable for ensuring that the Federal highway programs are both efficient and effective, and are consistent with applicable laws, regulations and policies.
The policy applies to all organizational elements of the FHWA and all FHWA programs. The FHWA has stewardship and oversight responsibilities for all FHWA programs, and these program responsibilities include Title 23 and non-Title 23 program areas. While STDs may assume certain project approval authorities in accordance with Section 106, Title 23, United States Code, the FHWA is ultimately accountable for ensuring that the Federal highway program is delivered consistent with established requirements. The FHWA responsibility is the same when Federal Agencies assume authorities for the implementation of Federal Lands Highway Program. The FHWA has program oversight responsibilities regardless of project approval authorities assumed by the STD or Federal Agency. The FHWA oversight is conducted through a wide range and variety of mechanisms. These include process reviews, program evaluation, program management activities, and project involvement activities. The FHWA stewardship activities, beyond oversight, include continuous process improvement initiatives, technical assistance, technology deployment, performance measurement, project involvement activities, and sharing best practices.
The FHWA unit offices (Headquarters and divisions) will evaluate the risks/benefits in the implementation of FHWA programs and establish activities to develop confidence that the STD or Federal Agency mechanisms and activities are sufficient. Oversight activities will be included in the unit's annual performance plan.
When a STD or Federal Agency assumes project approval responsibilities, it must have mechanisms in-place to assure that all project actions will be carried out according to laws, regulations, and policies. This applies to projects administered by the STD or local public agencies (LPA). These mechanisms include the agreement required under Section 106, Title 23, United States Code, processes, procedures, and program manuals. The FHWA must conduct verification activities to assure that the STD or Federal Agency implementation of the Federal highway programs conform with laws, regulations and policies and the STD or Federal Agency is carrying out its roles and responsibilities according to the law, regulations, policies, and any established agreement with the FHWA. The FHWA oversight and independent verification activities are similar to the quality assurance portion of quality control/quality assurance programs prevalent in many construction and materials programs.
The National Strategic Plan sets strategic goals for FHWA stewardship activities. The FHWA Performance Plan identifies key stewardship initiatives that will be conducted nationally for the immediate fiscal year. Each office must develop annual unit performance plans that guide its stewardship efforts. These plans must be aligned with the FHWA Annual Performance Plan. The FHWA must balance its activities to achieve strategic goals while reaching a level of confidence that Federal requirements are being met. As a result, each office is expected to include some level of oversight activities in its unit performance plan.
Each office is expected to use a risk/benefit analysis or similar prioritization process to identify the appropriate oversight initiatives and effectively allocate personnel resources based on risks and benefits. The process should consider items such as strategic goals, mutual FHWA and STD or Federal Agency initiatives to improve quality, cost, and the FHWA level of confidence in oversight mechanisms and activities. Ideally, this prioritization process would be conducted in cooperation with the STD or Federal Agency. This process should result in a mixture of initiatives to achieve strategic goals, meet customer needs and expectations, yield high benefits or pay-offs, result in systemic improvement, deploy innovative technology, provide technical assistance, and to ensure that the Federal highway program is being delivered consistent with laws, regulations, policies and strategic goals. The process should also result in reviews that include project and program verification so that FHWA has confidence in the quality of the delivery of the Federal highway programs.
Stewardship and oversight initiatives that focus on broad program areas must play a prominent role in the plan since these reviews are more likely to yield systemic improvements and a resultant higher pay-off for the effort invested. Project level verification may also be included depending on several factors such as level of Federal interest, technical complexity, statutory requirements, and partner capabilities. Program reviews should include a sampling of Interstate, National Highway Safety (NHS), and non-NHS projects for verifying adequate STD/Federal implementation of the program and making program or project improvement recommendations.
FHWA oversight approaches and mechanisms should be developed in cooperation with the STD or Federal Agency.
The attached memorandum from King reflects excellent work on Infrastructure's part to address the implementation requirements surrounding our Federal highway responsibilities for stewardship. The June 22, 2001, issued "Policy on the Stewardship and Oversight of the Federal Highway Program" (Stewardship Policy) had directed that certain appropriate implementation actions be undertaken.
As you are aware, I recently initiated some leadership discussions on stewardship that, among other things, will attempt to provide some framework around which additional stewardship implementation strategies and "nuts and bolts" activities can be developed. Our leadership and program management responsibilities are key to the successful delivery of the national highway programs.
As King points out, the implementing directives will be continually "reviewed for relevancy and updated, as appropriate." We will continue to develop and provide additional implementation guidance not only from Infrastructure but also from the other functional areas that will clarify our responsibilities without being overly prescriptive in instruction. The guidance will be coordinated and synchronized to ensure a consistent management philosophy throughout the program development and project delivery process.
This is an exciting time for us, both as we approach reauthorization and as we witness the Nation's transportation challenges grow, requiring our continued effective stewardship to meet the needs of the Nation.
On June 22, 2001, FHWA issued the Policy on the Stewardship and Oversight of the Federal Highway Programs (Stewardship Policy). The Stewardship Policy reaffirmed that, regardless of the project responsibilities delegated to the States (or other Federal Agencies), FHWA is ultimately responsible for the Federal highway programs. The Stewardship Policy applies to all FHWA programs. The purpose of this memorandum is to re-affirm FHWA's policy position to ensure that each FHWA division office stewardship program provides assurances that highway improvements are constructed to a desired quality and that Federal-aid construction funds are expended in a manner consistent with applicable Federal laws and regulations.
Quality construction is fundamental to meeting the mission of the Agency. Achievement of the Agency's national objectives is dependent on highway improvements being constructed to a desired level of quality in order to ensure that they perform as intended. Quality construction improves system performance, resulting in reduced impacts on traffic, congestion, and the environment. Safety is improved through minimizing work zone frequency, duration, and disruption of the normal traffic flow. Quality construction results in improved economic efficiency of our highway investments.
Since the passage of the ISTEA of 1991, changes in Federal legislation have significantly altered the environment through which the FHWA delivers the Federal-aid program. These legislative changes have provided the State departments of transportation with expanded authority to act on behalf of the FHWA in ensuring that projects constructed using the Federal-aid highway funds result in long-lasting, economical and high-quality transportation improvements. However, this expanded authority has not diminished the FHWA's responsibility and accountability to Congress and the public.
FHWA Responsibility for Construction Oversight
The basis for our authority can be found in 23 United States Code, (U.S.C.). Representing the Secretary of Transportation we are charged with certain responsibilities. For example, in 23 U.S.C. 114, it states:
"The construction of any highways or portions of highways located on the Federal-aid system shall be undertaken by the respective State transportation departments or under their direct supervision. ... such construction shall be subject to the inspection and approval of the Secretary."
In addition, in accordance with 23 U.S.C. 302 (a), it is the responsibility of FHWA to insure that:
"Any State desiring to avail itself of the provisions of this Title shall have a State transportation department which shall have adequate powers, and be suitably equipped and organized to discharge to the satisfaction of the Secretary the duties required by this Title."
Subsection (a) of 23 U.S.C. 109 further requires that:
"...the Secretary shall ensure that the plans and specifications for each proposed highway project under this chapter provide for a facility that will (1) adequately serve the existing and planned future traffic of the highway in a manner that is conducive to safety, durability, and economy of maintenance; and (2) be designed and constructed in accordance with criteria best suited to accomplish the objectives described in paragraph (1)..."
Subsection (c) of 23 U.S.C. 106, Project approval and oversight, provides for the States to assume some responsibilities of the Secretary for certain projects. However, subsection (d), Responsibilities of the Secretary, further states that:
"...nothing in this section, section 133 [Surface transportation program], or section 149 [Congestion mitigation and air quality improvement program] shall affect or discharge any responsibilities or obligations of the Secretary under (1) section 113 [Prevailing rate of wage] or 114 [Construction], or (2) any Federal law..."
In order to carry out these responsibilities, division office stewardship programs should provide for program-level and project-level construction oversight, problem solving, technical assistance, quality improvement, and deployment of state-of-the-art technology. The stewardship programs should include elements that address full-oversight projects, State administered projects, and major projects, as appropriate. As a minimum, the stewardship program should:
Because of the large amount of public funds involved, construction programs are inherently high-risk areas. The division office risk assessments should include an assessment of the risk associated with the State and local transportation agencies' Federal-aid construction programs for the purpose of determining oversight priorities. Consistent with the Stewardship Policy, the primary focus should be the identification and prioritization of high-risk construction areas such that the appropriate level of division office resources can be allocated to manage the associated risk.
Guidance and Implementation Tools
An effort is currently underway to review and update the existing technical guidance related to the FHWA construction programs. The specific statutory requirements pertaining to construction will be identified and implementing directives will be reviewed for relevancy and updated, as appropriate. Tools to assist in the implementation of construction oversight, such as inspection guides and training opportunities, are also being developed. Specific tools include the following:
Updated information concerning these tools will be transmitted as it becomes available.