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Third-Year Report, TCSP Program Administration

Third-Year Report


4. TCSP Program Administration

Administration represents the "nuts and bolts" of the TCSP program and supports the implementation of successful TCSP projects. This section provides a chronology of the TCSP program to date; reviews experiences with grant selection and administration; reviews technical support and knowledge transfer activities; and discusses the benefits resulting from a competitive grant application process. The findings are based on telephone interviews with staff from Federal program partner agencies, TCSP stakeholder groups, and grantees.

TCSP Program Chronology

The timeline for the solicitation and selection of projects has evolved over the first three years of the program. In the first year of the program, the announcement of award of the grants occurred relatively late (midway through the fiscal year) because time was required to establish the program and solicit and evaluate applications following the enactment of TEA-21 in June 1998. The announcement of grant awards has since been moved forward into the first month of the fiscal year for which funds are being awarded.

Timeline for TCSP Applications and Awards
Timeline from 1998 through 2001 showing major milestones in the TCSP program, including application due dates and announcement of awards for each Fiscal Year.

FY 1999. A total of $20 million was authorized by TEA-21 for the FY 1999 TCSP Program. FHWA received 524 letters of interest requesting $392 million in FY 1999 funds. A two-stage review process was used, in which a pool of finalists was selected based on their letters of interest and asked to submit full grant requests. On March 15, 1999, the 47 selected finalists submitted grant requests for review. On May 3, 1999, 35 TCSP grants totaling $13.1 million were awarded to 27 States plus the District of Columbia. An additional $534,480 was used in FY 1999 for technical assistance, evaluation, and research. Also in FY 1999, there was one TCSP earmark to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) of $4 million for a remote sensing project. (Actual allocations for TCSP were less than appropriated funding amounts in FY 1999 and other years as a result of adjustments made by Congress to program funding levels.)

FY 2000. A total of $35 million was made available for the FY 2000 TCSP Program: $25 million authorized by TEA-21, and an additional $10 million in FHWA Administrative funds.

FHWA received 292 FY 2000 applications totaling $151 million from 48 States and the District of Columbia. On March 17, 2000, 84 projects totaling $31.1 million were awarded to 50 States and the District of Columbia. $21.7 million of the TEA-21 funds were awarded to 39 congressionally-earmarked projects, while $9.3 million of the FHWA Administrative funds were awarded to 45 competitively awarded TCSP grants. In contrast to the two-stage review process used in FY 1999, a single-stage review process was used to evaluate competitive applications. An additional $678,000 of the FHWA Administrative funds were used for technical assistance, evaluation, and research.

FY 2001. A total of $50 million was made available for the FY 2001 TCSP Program: $25 million authorized by TEA-21 for the TCSP program, and $25 million of FHWA Administrative funds. FHWA received 298 applications totaling more than $196 million from 46 States, the District of Columbia, and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. On October 27, 2000, 80 FY 2001 TCSP grants totaling $46.9 million were awarded to 34 States. All of the FY 2001 TCSP funds were earmarked. No FY 2001 TCSP funds were available for technical assistance, evaluation, or research.

FY 2002.TEA-21 authorized $25 million for the FY 2002 TCSP Program. The deadline for FY 2002 applications was January 31, 2001. FHWA received a total of 227 FY 2002 TCSP applications requesting more than $167 million. The announcement of the FY 2002 TCSP grant awards is expected after October 2001.

Soliciting and Selecting Projects

The process for making grant awards differs somewhat for discretionary and earmark grants. In either case, the target date for announcing awards is the beginning of the Federal fiscal year (October). For discretionary grants, the application and review process starts at least six to nine months prior to this date with the publication of a Federal Register notice announcing the application deadline. After applications are developed and submitted, they are reviewed by an inter-agency team and a final selection of projects is made and announced. FHWA then negotiates and finalizes a grant agreement with each grantee. For earmark awards, the announcement of the award at the beginning of the fiscal year is the first step in the process. Each grantee receiving earmarked funds is requested to complete an application similar to those submitted by discretionary applicants describing how the project meets TCSP goals and objectives, and providing a workplan, budget, and evaluation plan. FHWA then negotiates and finalizes the application with the grantee.

The large number of applications received - 524 in FY 1999, nearly 300 each in FY 2000 and FY 2001, and 227 in FY 2002 - indicates a broad interest in and awareness of the TCSP program. Interviewees who have participated in the reviews of grant applications felt that there has been a strong diversity of applications, covering a full range of applicant types, geographic areas, area types, and project types. While some people would have liked to see more applications covering certain project types, including freight, telecommunications, public health, and global climate change, overall they felt that the applications received were generally what was hoped for from the TCSP program. This was particularly true in FY 2000 and 2001, as applicants were able to gain a greater understanding of the program's objectives by reviewing the first year awards or by attending the TCSP workshop held in May 1999. Furthermore, reviewers noted that the number of strong applications that they would have liked to fund far outpaced the actual funding available in each year.

Reviewers also felt that the process for submitting and reviewing discretionary applications was productive. Input from FHWA Division offices and FTA and EPA Regional offices provided local insights into the nature and quality of the grant application. This input, in conjunction with a final review by a Federal interagency team of FHWA, FTA, OST, Volpe, and EPA staff, led to a strong set of projects being selected. Some reviewers noted concern over the initially cumbersome nature of the process in FY 1999, which involved reviewing numerous paper applications in a short time period. This problem, however, was largely solved as the submission and review of applications transitioned into electronic format in FY 2000 and 2001, and the length of the application was limited to 15 pages.

The process for awarding earmark grants is less complex in that it does not include an inter-agency review process. As with discretionary grants, the ability to submit applications electronically was viewed as helpful. FHWA staff did note, however, that they sometimes had difficulty identifying earmark grantees or a contact at the earmark agency, because they received only the name of a project from an Appropriations Act. They suggested that better communication regarding the recipients of grants would help expedite the negotiation of a grant agreement and obligation of funds.

Process for Making Grand Awards
Flowchart illustrating the process for making grant awards, from solicitation of applications through the obligation of funds. A different process is shown for earmark than for discretionary grants.

Administering Grants

There are several options for the administration of grants under TCSP. Individual TCSP projects can be administered by either FHWA Division offices (which are established for each State), State DOTs, or in special cases by FTA. TCSP grantees must meet Federal-aid requirements when implementing their grants. FHWA has established financial management systems with State DOTs, and many TCSP grants are channeled through this established process. However, in some cases grantees have worked with their FHWA Division office to develop a different funding mechanism, such as a cooperative agreement or grant through another eligible agency (e.g., a public transit agency).

The direct role of FHWA Division offices in the administration of TCSP grants is one of the non-traditional aspects of the TCSP program. This role was intended to streamline the program and provide flexibility in terms of funding arrangements to grantees. However, it also has proven to be more time intensive for some Division offices than originally anticipated. This is partly because many of the grants are being administered to cities, counties, and other agencies (other than State DOTs or MPOs) that are not as familiar with Federal-aid grant requirements. Some of these requirements include the need to create a budget and time schedule and the need to comply with Federal environmental impact review requirements (for construction projects). In addition, FHWA grants are provided on a cost-reimbursable basis, rather than as a lump sum award. As a result, FHWA Division offices commented that they spent a disproportionate amount of time in administering TCSP grants and also working with grantees to help them learn the process and requirements. This was a minor issue for those Divisions with only a couple of grants, but a more significant issue for Divisions with many grants. The burden is compounded by the fact that Division offices do not routinely administer grants directly to local agencies.

A concern also noted by many interviewees, including a number of grant recipients, is that many TCSP projects have taken longer than expected to get underway. In some cases, delays have ranged up to a year from the announcement of the grant award. No single factor can be pinpointed. Delays sometimes have occurred at local agencies attempting to fulfill grant requirements, hire consultants for the project, address changes in local leadership, or identify local funding to cover costs in advance of reimbursement. Delays also have occurred in State DOT contracting departments and in FHWA Division offices due to the amount of technical assistance required for the program. Also, prior expectations for turnaround time may sometimes be optimistic and exceed what can realistically be achieved.

Nonetheless, once projects have been fully contracted, grantees have proceeded with enthusiasm. In some cases, grantees noted that they used the delay period productively, to further build relationships with project partners or to begin work on the project with local match funding.

Technical Support and Knowledge Transfer

One of the purposes of TCSP is to share ideas about how to undertake planning that integrates issues of transportation, community, and system preservation. FHWA has worked to facilitate learning and knowledge transfer from the program by: stressing evaluation as a component of each TCSP project; creating a web site that has a description and contact information for each project, as well as other resources for the program; publishing a First Year Accomplishments Report for the program; hosting workshops for grantees and potential applicants to share information and ideas from their projects; and documenting and publicizing workshop proceedings. FHWA is undertaking additional learning and knowledge transfer activities, including the publication of project case studies; production of this Third-Year Report; and creation of a searchable project database on the web site that also includes products from each project as they become available.

Interviewees for this report generally felt that FHWA has done a good job of facilitating the sharing of information. People who attended the two workshops held to date - one in Denver in May 1999, and one in Washington, D.C. in September 2000 - commented that they were especially valuable in helping them meet other grantees, share ideas, and learn about other projects. Some interviewees, especially those who had not attended the workshops, commented that they did not have a good idea of what projects are accomplishing, and looked forward to further documentation of the results of individual projects.

A number of interviewees also commented that the TCSP Program web site was especially useful in helping to share information about the overall program as well as specific projects. The web site (http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/planning/tcsp/) includes:

In addition to these features, in 2001 FHWA undertook the development of a more comprehensive and searchable on-line database of projects. The database allows any Internet user to search for specific projects by year, State, project type, and other criteria. The database is also intended to assist with the application review process, by including fields in which grantees can enter the text of applications and field reviewers can enter comments on the applications. In the future, FHWA intends to continue to make products from individual TCSP projects available on the web site as they are received from grantees.

An important FHWA role in addition to knowledge transfer has been to provide technical assistance to grantees. This assistance has included working with grantees, once a grant has been awarded, to more fully develop a project workplan, and to fulfill other requirements for an FHWA grant. Grantees and Federal program partner staff praised the FHWA staff of the TCSP program for their willingness to assist grantees with questions or concerns, as well as their overall commitment to and enthusiasm for the program. In addition, FHWA has provided guidance for grantees on how to structure and implement an evaluation plan. Many of the grantees commented that this guidance was helpful.

Benefits of Competitive Grant Applications

Competitive grant applications have represented an important element of the TCSP program administration process. TCSP program partners, grantees, and stakeholder groups interviewed for this report noted that there are benefits extending across all aspects of the program of having competitive grant applications for TCSP funds. Specifically, a competitive process encourages the following:

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Updated: 08/01/2013
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