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Stewardship/Oversight Task Force - Appendix A
A Policy on Stewardship & Oversight of the Federal Highway Program
Federal funding is provided to assist States and Federal Agencies in providing transportation services through the various Federal Highway Administration 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 (STA) 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 STAs 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 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. FHWA has stewardship and oversight responsibilities for all FHWA programs, and these program responsibilities include Title 23 and non-Title 23 program areas. While STAs 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. FHWA has program oversight responsibilities regardless of project approval authorities assumed by the STA or Federal Agency. 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. FHWA stewardship activities, beyond oversight, include continuous process improvement initiatives, technical assistance, technology deployment, performance measurement, project involvement activities, and sharing best practices.
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 STA or Federal Agency mechanisms and activities are sufficient. Oversight activities will be included in the unit's annual performance plan.
When a STA 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 STA 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 STA or Federal Agency implementation of the Federal highway programs conform with laws, regulations and policies and the STA 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 STA 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 STA 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, NHS, and non-NHS projects for verifying adequate STA/Federal implementation of the program and making program or project improvement recommendations.