The financing cycle for the Federal-aid Highway Program (FAHP) begins when Congress develops and enacts surface transportation authorizing legislation, such as the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21). For a specified period of years (the TEA-21 covers 6 years, but this is not mandatory), the authorizing act not only shapes and defines programs, but also sets upper limits (authorizations) on the amount of funds that can be made available to the Secretary of Transportation, acting through the FHWA and other departmental agencies, to carry out these programs.8
Once Congress has established these authorizations, the next question is when do they become available for obligation. The license to proceed with Federal programs is called "budget authority." There are two types of budget authority: "contract authority," which is available without further Congressional action, and "appropriated budget authority," which cannot be distributed and used until a second piece of legislation, an appropriations act, is passed. Both concepts are described in the following paragraphs.
An example of an appropriated budget authority program in the TEA-21 is the National Historic Covered Bridge Preservation Program.9 Although $10 million is authorized for each fiscal year from 1999 through 2003, none of those funds may be distributed until appropriated. For instance, no funds were appropriated for this program in FY 1999, so no funds were distributed.
Figure 2 shows the typical procedural steps for these appropriated budget authority programs.
Figure 2.Appropriated Budget Authority Programs.
The financial procedures for contract authority programs are shown in Figure 3.
Figure 3.Contract Authority Programs.
To have contract authority, a Federal-aid highway program must meet the following two criteria:
1) Chapter 1 reference. The authorization must be encompassed in Chapter 1 of Title 23, United States Code (U.S.C.), or its authorizing language must refer to Chapter 1. The primary wording conferring contract authority states that the Secretary of Transportation shall distribute funds that have been authorized10 and the authorizations "shall be available for obligation on the date of their apportionment or allocation or on October 1 of the fiscal year for which they are authorized, whichever occurs first."11 As stated earlier, apportionments and allocations will be discussed later in this section.
2) Trust funded. The program must be financed from the Highway Trust Fund (HTF). This link between the HTF and contract authority programs has existed since passage of the Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974. Because one of the main purposes of that act was to give Congress greater control over Federal spending, it sought to reduce the number of programs that received budget authority prior to passage of appropriations acts, the legislation through which Congress annually meters spending. However, Congress also realized that there were certain programs, such as the highway program, that required advance knowledge of the size of future funding commitments to do long-range planning and to operate smoothly from year to year. Thus, the 1974 Budget Act permits several exceptions to the standard two-step, authorization/appropriation process. One of these is for programs whose new budget authority is derived from trust funds, 90 percent or more of whose receipts are user-related taxes.12 The FAHP falls into thiscategory since it is supported by the HTF, and was thus allowed to continue to operate with contract authority.
It should be recognized that, by definition, contract authority is unfunded and a subsequent appropriations act is necessary to liquidate (pay) the obligations made under contract authority.
Reimbursable Nature of the Program
It is important to understand that the FAHP is not a "cash up-front" program. That is, even though the authorized amounts are "distributed" to the States, no cash is actually disbursed at this point. Instead, States are notified that they have Federal funds available for their use. Projects are approved and work is started; then the Federal government makes payments to the States for costs as they are incurred on projects.13 Furthermore, the amount of cash paid to the States reflects only the Federal share of the projects cost. The step-by-step procedures related to distributing and using authorized amounts are discussed later in this section under "Distribution of Funds."
Before the authorizations are distributed, several deductions are made.
Administration. As provided in the law, an allowance of "not to exceed 1.5 percentum," is deducted for administering the provisions of Title 23, U.S.C.14 This deduction (known as the "administrative takedown") is made from the funds authorized for the following programs: Interstate Maintenance Program (IM), National Highway System (NHS), Surface Transportation Program (STP), Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program (CMAQ), Highway Bridge Replacement and Rehabilitation Program (HBRRP), Minimum Guarantee, Appalachian Development Highway System Program, Recreational Trails Program, and the Federal Lands Highways Program (FLHP). This provision is an upper limit; thus the amount deducted for this purpose may be less than 1.5 percent if the full deduction is not necessary to cover the costs to administer the program.
This administrative takedown is used to pay the salaries of FHWA employees, travel expenses, supplies, office space, etc. Congress may also direct that additional programs be funded out of the administrative takedown. For example, in FY 1999, Congress directed that several programs be funded from the administrative takedown, including $750,000 for the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) audit cost reimbursement15 and $2,000,000 for administrative expenses for the Appalachian Regional Commission.16
Metropolitan planning. A second deduction is used to finance the metropolitan transportation planning activities mandated by Section 134 of Title 23, U.S.C. The deduction is equivalent to 1 percent of the authorizations remaining after the administrative deduction is made from IM, NHS, STP, CMAQ, and HBRRP.17 These funds are distributed to each State through a formula prescribed by law and are made available to Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) by the State, subject to the approval of the Secretary.18
Although these are the only deductions applied across several programs, other funds may be deducted for particular purposes. For example, a deduction of $500,000 per year is made from the STP authorization to fund the OperationLifesaver Program, an education program designed to eliminate collisions at railroad grade crossings.19 Similarly, a deduction of an additional $5.25 million per year is made from the STP authorization to fund Railway-Highway Crossing Hazard Elimination in High Speed Rail Corridors.20 In some instances, the amount may vary from year to year.
A complete list of these deductions over the period of the TEA-21 can be seen in Appendix D.
Distribution of Funds
Once these deductions have been made from the authorized amounts, the FHWA distributes the remainder (unless there is a penalty situation, as described below) among the States based on formulas (apportionments) and other procedures (allocations) as prescribed by law.
A list of apportioned programs, as well as a description of the formulas by which the funds are distributed, is contained in Appendix E.
At the time of an apportionment, certificates denoting the sums deducted and the exact amount of each apportionment are issued by the FHWA, generally to the States transportation agency. These certificates officially notify the States of the new funding available to them for each program. States then have the opportunity to request the Federal government to approve the obligation of funds in the various categories, thereby promising to reimburse the States later. Again, it is not cash that is apportioned.
When funds are distributed by apportionment, every eligible State is assured of receiving some portion of the amount distributed. Further, once an apportionment is made to a State, it cannot be taken away except by a congressional action (or by lapsing, which will be discussed later in this section).
Withhold apportionments. The law provides for penalties to encourage compliance with initiatives of national importance, such as minimum drinking age, zero blood alcohol concentration (BAC) tolerance for minors, and commercial drivers license provisions. For funds that are withheld, there may be a specific period of time by which the State must come into compliance before the withheld funds will lapse (be lost to the State). In some cases, the lapse can occur immediately.
Transfer apportionments. Another type of penalty situation requires that a portion of the noncompliant States apportionment be transferred to another program within the State. An example of this type of penalty situation is the failure to enforce safety belt use.
Freeze use of apportionments or project approval. A penalty may also be imposed on funds that have already been apportioned by freezing (refusing to allow) project approvals in that State for any project financed with Federal funds, as is the case when a State fails to properly maintain its Federal-aid projects.
Appendix F contains a complete list of penalties associated with FHWA programs.
State planning and research. Two percent of the major categories (IM, NHS, STP, CMAQ, HBRRP, and Minimum Guarantee funds) may only be used for planning and research activities. One-fourth of this amount must be used for research, development, and technology transfer unless the State certifies, and the Secretary accepts the certification, that transportation planning expenditures will require more than 75 percent of the earmarked amount.22
Safety and Transportation Enhancements. Ten percent of the STP apportionment to a State must be reserved for safety construction programs and another 10 percent must be reserved for transportation enhancement activities.23 The latter covers a broad range of activities that include beautification, scenic or historic highway programs (including provision of tourist and welcome center facilities), establishment of transportation museums, and pedestrian and bicycle safety education and facilities.
Surface Transportation Program. Of the remainder of the authorization after earmarking, 62.5 percent (this actually is 50 percent of the original apportionment) must be reserved in the following areas in proportion to the relative share each area constitutes of the States population:
(1) urbanized areas of over 200,000 population (the funds for which are further suballocated to each such area within a State based on the population of the area)24, and
(2) other areas of the State. Out of this portion, the State must reserve in rural areas below 5,000 population an amount equal to110 percent of the amounts apportioned to the State for the Secondary Program in FY 1991.25 Furthermore, up to 15 percent of the funds reserved for rural areas may be obligated on roads functionally classified as rural minor collectors.26
Highway Bridge Replacement and Rehabilitation Program. At least 15 percent of a States HBRRP apportionment must be used for public bridge projects that are not on a Federal-aid highway.28 The maximum amount of the apportionment that can be used for this purpose is 35 percent. The 15 percent requirement can be waived whenever the Secretary determines that this expenditure is not needed.
Disadvantaged Business Enterprises. Unless the Secretary determines otherwise, not less than 10 percent of the TEA-21 authorizations for highway, transit, and research programs must be spent with small business concerns owned and controlled by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals.29
In most cases, allocated funds are divided among States with qualifying projects using criteria provided in law. Some allocations are made entirely according to provisions provided for in law and others allow for some discretion on the part of the Secretary in selecting recipients. Because of the limited funding for, and discretionary nature of, these programs, not every State will receive an allocation in a given fiscal year. Examples of allocations are the Interstate Maintenance Discretionary and Bridge Discretionary programs. If a State receiving an allocation does not use it within a specified period of time, it can be withdrawn and reallocated to other States.
Appendix H contains a list of allocated programs.
In some cases, Congress directs how certain allocated funds are to be distributed by requiring that particular projects are to receive specific amounts of funding. This may be done either in the legislative language or by including statements of congressional intent in the committee reports accompanying the legislation. An example of congressional direction is the earmarking of virtually all the FY 1998 and 1999 funds authorized in the TEA-21 for the Intelligent Transportation Systems Deployment program. The High Priority Projects authorized in the TEA-21 are another example of congressionally directed funds.
It is important to note that in distributing Federal-aid highway funds, whether by apportionment or allocation, the entire amount of the authorization will be distributed (except in the case of a penalty situation, as discussed earlier).
The Minimum Guarantee consists of three main concepts
First, each State is guaranteed a certain share of the total program based on percentages specified in the TEA-21. These shares total 100 percent and the "total program," for the purposes of this calculation, consists of all the apportioned categories in the FAHPIM, NHS, STP, HBRRP, CMAQ, Metropolitan Planning, the Recreational Trails Program, the Appalachian Development Highway System, and the Minimum Guaranteeplus the High Priority Projects.
Second, the Minimum Guarantee ensures that each State will receive at least 90.5 percent of its share of contributions to the Highway Account of the HTF. For example, Arizona contributed 1.7821 percent of the total FY 1997 Highway Account contributions (which are used in the FY 1999 Minimum Guarantee calculations). Arizona is thus guaranteed 1.6119 percent (1.7821% x 90.5%) of the total program in FY 1999. If the share from the first part of the Guarantee does not provide the 90.5 percent return to a State, then the States share is increased until it meets the test. The shares of all other States are reduced so that the total shares still add to 100 percent.
Third, each State receives at least $1 million per year in Minimum Guarantee funds. An open-ended authorization is provided, ensuring that there will be sufficient funds to meet the objectives of the Guarantee.
When new apportionments or allocations are made, the amounts are added to the programs unused balance from previous years (e.g., newly apportioned NHS funds are added to any existing balance of unused (unobligated) NHS funds). This situation arises because Federal-aid highway funds are available for use (obligation) for more than one year. Their availability does not terminate at the end of the fiscal year as is the case with many other Federal programs.
When a State obligates funds, it is assumed that the oldest funds in a given category are obligated first. Through this first-in, first-out method the oldest funding still available for obligation is considered to be used first. When funds lapse, no cash need be returned to the Federal government since there was never any cash distributed.
The level of authorizations reflects Congress relative priority among the many Federal-aid funding categories. However, the States may have differing needs or priorities. In response to this, the law provides flexibility in the use of specific sums by permitting transfers to be made among certain programs.
Appendix J contains a list of the transferability provisions.
An obligation is a commitmentthe Federal governments promise to pay the States for the Federal share of a projects eligible cost. This commitment occurs when the project is approved and the project agreement is executed.34 Obligation is a key step in financing. Obligated funds are considered "used" even though no cash is transferred.
Obligation also is the step in the financing process under contract authority programs where budgetary controls may be imposed. If such controls are necessary, they are usually achieved by the imposition of limitations on the FAHP obligations (this is discussed later in the "Limitation on Obligations" section).
With a few exceptions, the Federal government does not pay for the entire cost of construction or improvement of Federal-aid highways. To account for the necessary dollars to complete the project, Federal funds must be "matched" with funds from other sources.
Interstate System. IM projects are funded with a Federal share of 90 percent. If NHS, STP, and CMAQ funds are used for projects on the Interstate system, the Federal share will be 90 percent (unless the project adds lanes that are not high-occupancy-vehicle or auxiliary lanes, in which case the Federal share will revert to the 80 percent level).36
Sliding scale. States with large amounts of Federal lands have their Federal share of certain programs increased up to 95 percent in relation to the percentage of their total land area that is under Federal control.37
100 percent Federal funding. Some types of projects require no matching fundsthe Federal government pays 100 percent of the cost of Federal Lands Highways projects; Emergency Relief projects (for certain emergency repairs made within 180 days of the event causing the need for such repairs);38 Highway Use Tax Evasion projects;39 Woodrow Wilson Bridge (Bridge component only);40 and certain safety projects.41
Tapered Match. In some cases, a tapering match may be approved in which the Federal share may vary (not to exceed 100 percent) on individual progress payments on a project as long as the final contribution of Federal funds does not exceed the maximum Federal share authorized for the project.42 Progress payments are permitted as long as a project agreement has been executed pursuant to Section 106 of Title 23, U.S.C.43
Appendix I shows the basic Federal share for selected programs.
As mentioned previously, the FAHP is a reimbursable program. States are not apportioned cash but rather are notified that a balance of Federal funds is available for their use, meaning that the State can incur obligations, begin projects, and then later be reimbursed for costs incurred. The project need not be completed, however, before a State begins to receive reimbursement. Depending upon the type of the project, the time elapsing from obligation to reimbursement can vary from a few days to several years.
While payments normally are made to the States, if projects have been initiated on toll facilities under the jurisdiction of a public authority in a State, reimbursements can be made directly to that public authority if requested by the State transportation department.48
The normal sequence of events for reimbursement is:
It is possible that steps 3 through 6 may occur on the same day. The timing of the Federal payment to the State is governed by an agreement between the State and the U.S. Treasury in accordance with the Cash Management Improvement Act of 1990.49 The FHWAs payments are generally deposited in the States account on the same day payments to the contractor are made.
This sequence repeats, often beginning again before the previous round is completed. This is illustrated in Figure 4.
Electronic version of Publication No. FHWA-PL-99-015