As a result of discussions at the Federal Highway Administration's (FHWA) National Business Meeting, the FHWA initiated the Stewardship and Oversight Task Force. The Task Force, formed on July 21, 2000, was charged with re-visiting and re-framing our national guidance on stewardship and oversight of FHWA programs and projects. Executive Director Anthony R. Kane's June 9, 2000, memorandum issuing "Stewardship and Oversight - A Short Statement" was provided to the group as background information. The Task Force included representatives from Infrastructure Operations Core Business Units (CBU), Legal Service Business Unit (SBU), Eastern Resource Center, five Division offices, and one State Transportation Agency (STA). The list of Task Force members can be found in Appendix H.
The FHWA is the agency within the U.S. Department of Transportation responsible for administering the Federal highway (Federal-aid and Federal Lands) programs authorized by statute. Authority for the FHWA to administer these programs is found in Title 49, United States Code, which organizes the U.S. Department of Transportation and its agencies, and in Title 23, United States Code, which contains the authorization and requirements of the various FHWA programs. As the legislation has evolved, the FHWA responsibility and accountability to Congress and the public have not changed.
The FHWA relationship with the STA and Federal Agency partners has changed over the years. The FHWA and STA have: increased knowledge of effective highway management programs; evolved processes and procedures from Interstate construction programs; increased Federal and State funding levels; and increased ability to delegate project approval actions to STA. Other changes in the transportation industry that have impacted how the FHWA conducts its stewardship and oversight are: FHWA and STA reducing staff size; the STAs increasing reliance on consultant engineering services to deliver projects; Local Public Agencies (LPA) administering an increasing number of projects; and private entities increasing role in the financing and management of transportation facilities.
As a result of all these factors, FHWA manages increased program responsibility (size and number of programs) with less staff. FHWA has developed an effective process management approach from experience with implementing the Secondary Road Program, and Certification Acceptance. With the use of the process management approach, the FHWA has transitioned from full project oversight and approval of every project or activities funded with FHWA funds to program oversight of programs, some targeted project level activity, and the STAs assuming the authority for project approvals on significant portions of the most programs. This FHWA transition to program oversight has resulted in confusion and wide variance in the interpretation of FHWA stewardship and oversight roles.
TASK FORCE DATA COLLECTION/ANALYSIS PROCESSES
The Task Force agreed to follow the basic process of:
- Obtain information about relevant historical and current oversight practices;
- Identify critical issues and possible solutions; and,
- Identify the best solutions and develop recommendations.
Information/data gathering processes included soliciting information from FHWA staff, reviewing all existing policy regarding stewardship and oversight, and reviewing pertinent process reviews. The Task Force membership has the years and diversity of experience to track FHWA history and actions. As a result of a brainstorming session, the Task Force identified issues that could be sorted under three focus areas: policy, FHWA/STA roles, and stewardship and oversight tools available for use.
The Task Force reviewed FHWA input provided in response to the development of the June 9, 2000, statement. In addition, the Task Force canvassed all Field Division Offices, CBUs, and specific SBUs with links to oversight policy for input into the issue through the use of a five-question survey. The outreach exercise verified the diversity of opinion in the FHWA and the importance of addressing stewardship and oversight; verified the previously identified focus areas of policy, roles, and tools; and further defined the details of specific issues in each of these focus areas. As a result of this outreach, the Task Force identified key issues, prioritized these issues, and proceeded with the analysis and identification of possible solutions
With the prioritized list, the team identified one-to-three person teams to tackle the top issues. The teams researched the issues; provided clear definition of the stewardship and oversight aspects of the issues; documented law, regulations or current policies; and identified possible solutions. The research and recommendations were documented with the preparation of issue papers. After the initial review of these issue papers, the group consolidated all issue papers and focused our efforts on:
- Preparing a new stewardship and oversight paper that clarified the FHWA policy and the roles of the FHWA and STA;
- Recommending a stewardship goal in the FHWA National Strategic Plan and Performance Plans; and,
- Identifying tools to assist the FHWA in implementing the FHWA vision of stewardship and oversight.
Once the draft policy was prepared, the Task Force circulated the proposed policy and accompanying recommendations to FHWA offices. Overall, the proposed policy and recommendations were well received, with comments including editorial comments on the policy paper, some discussion of the need for outreach, and the need for additional information or tools. The one issue that received strong support but had strong, diverse opinions on implementation was the recommendation to build a stronger connection between FHWA stewardship and oversight responsibilities and the FHWA National Strategic Plan and the FHWA Performance Plan. Comments from field offices, CBUs, selected SBUs, and Directors of Field Services on the proposed policy and other recommendations were considered in preparing the final recommendations and this report.
SUMMARY OF RECOMMENDATIONS
The Task Force's recommendations targeted Agency policies and tools. The Task Force retained these two focus areas as a result of the top issues being the need for clarity on the FHWA policy, which includes clarification of the related FHWA/STA roles, and the appropriate use of tools to build understanding and to implement this policy.
1. Policy On Stewardship and Oversight
The Task Force recommends the FHWA update its policy on stewardship, with the proposed policy being included as Appendix A to this report. The proposed policy defines stewardship and oversight, and the relationship between them.
- The efficient and effective management of the public funds that have been entrusted to the Federal Highway Administration.
- The act of ensuring that the Federal highway program is delivered consistent with applicable laws, regulations and policies.
Previous policy was written to emphasize the delegation of project authorities to the STAs. The emphasis of policy and past outreach created questions as to whether the FHWA had oversight responsibilities on "exempt" projects. The proposed policy makes clear that the FHWA has stewardship and oversight responsibilities on all Federally funded programs. The proposed policy also clarifies and emphasizes that the FHWA and the STA roles in the implementation of Federal highway funding.
FHWA has stewardship and oversight responsibilities for all FHWA programs. While STAs may assume certain project approval authorities in accordance with 23 USC 106, FHWA is ultimately accountable for ensuring that the Federal highway program is delivered consistent with the established requirements.
In addition to the clarity on FHWA stewardship roles, the proposed policy also highlights the need for FHWA Offices to conduct program oversight, and to manage oversight responsibilities by including the major activities in their unit plans.
2. Stewardship Goal in National Strategic Plan and Performance Plans
The Task Force recommends that the FHWA provide a stronger link between FHWA oversight responsibilities in National Strategic Plan and Performance Plans. The Task Force reviewed the 1998 FHWA National Strategic Plan, the 1999 Performance Plan and the Draft 2001 Performance Plan. These documents had brief narratives linking the Agency's stewardship roles to achieving identified business goals and the implementation of strategies. The missing link the Task Force identified is Agency accountability to Congress and the public in administering these programs since there are no direct links between FHWA stewardship activities and performance. The Task Force understands the importance of linking our activities to the accomplishment of identified business goals to benefit the public, but recommends emphasizing the importance of staff conducting appropriate oversight of the Federal highway programs to ensure these programs comply with the program requirements and provide effective transportation products and services.
Appendix B includes further discussion of this subject, and the recommendation for a stronger discussion of oversight in the FHWA National Strategic Plan when that plan is updated. The Task Force has referred this issue to Policy and its future activities to update the National Strategic Plan.
3. Update of Agency Regulations
The Task Force recommends that FHWA update all its policies and guidance material to be consistent with the updated FHWA stewardship policy. In reviewing past Agency policies and guidance, the Task Force identified that there are numerous FHWA documents that include discussion of "exempt" projects and imply FHWA does not have an oversight role on "exempt" projects. Appendix C includes a list of identified regulations that need to be updated.
1. Integrated Information System
The Task Force recommends the FHWA develop an integrated information system on the FHWA Home Page, linking legislation, regulation, and policy memoranda. It is also recommended that when documents are not synchronized, the home page should identify documents and procedures FHWA uses to implement the Federal highway program.
One of the first issues identified was that FHWA has regulations and policies that are out of date with the legislative changes authorized in TEA-21. The Task Force recognizes that the FHWA is in this position because of the number and scope of the legislative changes authorized in 1998, coupled with other Department of Transportation or Federal government changes that the Agency has had to implement concurrently. Employees with some years of service in FHWA have knowledge of the changes and can identify the most current "Agency position" on an issue. However, newer, less experienced employees struggle with knowing all sources of information and the identification of the Agency's position on a topic. This proposal has been forwarded to the FHWA "FAPG" team and is being considered.
2.Expand The Use Of Information Sharing Mechanisms
The Task Force recommends all offices use their information processes to share best practices, and innovative processes and procedures they use in conducting their stewardship and oversight responsibilities. The Task Force noted that one of the keys to our future success is the sharing of information, innovation, and "lessons learned" with our peers in other FHWA offices. This sharing of information primarily would build knowledge and experience. There are several program offices or activities that are currently using methods such as newsletters, websites, and conference calls to share information with others.
Appendix D includes an example of a Division Office "required actions" list. This list is provided as an example of information sharing that Divisions might find useful. An outgrowth of the risk/benefit analysis could be the identification of additional opportunities for the STA to assume a broader range of responsibilities.
3. Task Force Outreach Plan
The Task Force recommends a coordinated outreach plan. The need for this coordinated outreach is to continue the discussion of the policy and uniformly address issues and concerns in the implementation of the policy. The plan involves top FHWA management communication with STA executives as well as communication to FHWA and STA employees at all levels of the organization. The intent of this plan is to take advantage of currently planned meetings in calendar year 2001, and to add opportunities for discussion if necessary. The Task Force has developed a "Question " Answer" document to assist in the outreach effort. Appendix E includes an outline of the proposed outreach plan, and a "Powerpoint" presentation to highlight the important facets of the proposed policy and key implementation issues, and the "Question " Answer" document.
4. Risk/Benefit Analysis Tool
The proposed stewardship policy expects that all FHWA offices assess the implementation of the FHWA program in its responsibility, and to prioritize the use of their limited resources. The Task Force recognizes that many FHWA offices currently conduct an assessment and prioritization process, and that there is a range of formality and documentation in the processes used. The Task Force recommends that the assessment/prioritization process be conducted in cooperation with the STA/Federal Agency involved in implementing the FHWA program.
The risk/benefit analysis tool included in Appendix F is a conceptual framework of how an office could assess the implementation of the FHWA programs and the determination of the most effective use of its personnel resources for the next fiscal year. The Task Force recommends that FHWA conduct further review of available processes.
5. Agreement Required by Title 23 of United States Code ("Agreement")
The administration of the Federal highway programs has evolved from 100% Federal project level involvement and approval mechanisms to a mixture of program oversight and project level involvement. Secondary Road Plans and Certification Acceptance Agreements were the earliest program oversight mechanisms the FHWA used to delegate project approvals to a STA.
As a result of Section 106 of Title 23, United States Code, the STA or Federal Agency assumes some of the responsibilities of the Secretary. It is also a requirement that the STA or Federal Agency and the FHWA reach agreement on each agency's roles and responsibilities, and how those responsibilities will be managed.
The Task Force recommends that the FHWA office discuss the implementation of the Federal highway programs with the STA or Federal Agency that shares the implementation of the program with FHWA. There needs to be agreement on the Agency that will have the project level approval authority. The FHWA and the STA or Federal agency need to continually: (1) evaluate its stewardship and oversight mechanisms, and (2) work to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the FHWA highway programs. Appendix G is an example of how the Agreement can be used to assist the FHWA and STA or Federal Agency in managing these delegated authorities. Another option is for these discussions to occur with the development and approval of individual processes and procedures.