WASHINGTON — A recently released audit of an extremely popular U.S. Department of Transportation grant program revealed an inadequate framework for ensuring projects meet their goals, though the DOT said it has taken steps to meet some of the recommendations.

The DOT Inspector General’s audit report focuses on grantees benefiting from the original $1.5 billion of Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery funding appropriated under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in 2009.

The TIGER program has now grown to a total of more than $3 billion through three additional rounds authorized by Congress. In the latest round, states and localities requested $10.2 billion of grants while only $500 million was available.

The audit found that although the program generally adhered to best practices and was a challenging undertaking, DOT in many cases did not hold grantee projects to firm performance goals or completion timetables.

“While agreements for 10 of the 14 projects in our sample had sufficient scope and detail, four lacked key elements to hold grantees accountable for achieving promised benefits and complying with agreed-to budgets and schedules,” the audit report stated. “Problems we found included conflicting milestone dates within the same agreement, a lack of clear milestones to track project progress, and imprecise information on how TIGER funds would be used in relation to other sources of project funding.”

Another concern raised by the audit involves how quickly federal dollars are being spent. The ARRA set a September 2016 deadline for spending the $1.5 billion, which remained more than half unspent at the end of this year’s first quarter.

“As of March 2012, grantees had not closed out any of the TIGER projects and only seven had fully expended their funding,” the IG stated in the audit report. “In addition, the latest data we received from (Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood’s office) shows that eight of 51 TIGER projects face actual or potential schedule delays.”

While DOT said it could address scheduling issues as necessary by contacting grantees directly, the audit revealed no formal process is in place for following up and evaluating how the problems are addressed.

DOT concurred with most of the findings in the report, but stated it has “refined” processes to comply with many of the IG’s recommendations.

However, the department only partially agreed with some recommendations. It said for example that it had no plans to overhaul its project performance metrics but would create a comprehensive report on the program’s impact by July 31, 2013.

“With each round, the department has improved the TIGER award and oversight processes and will continually refine the program going forward,” DOT spokesman Justin Nisly said.

“The TIGER program has certainly evolved over time since its inception in the Recovery Act,” said Joung Lee, an associate director at the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials. “State DOTs appreciate the opportunity to access this funding source outside of the traditional formula program, and we look forward to continuing the cooperation with U.S. DOT in ensuring TIGER program’s transparency and accountability.”

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