Government report faults FRA oversight of California high speed project (corrected)

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WASHINGTON — A government report issued Friday says the Federal Railroad Administration provided inadequate oversight of federal funds granted to California’s high speed rail program, and as a result, $2.55 billion in FRA funding “is at increased risk of not achieveing the purpose of the agreements.”

The report from the Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General says that while the FRA “routinely” found required documents from the California High Speed Rail Authority to be in sufficient, and assisted in improving submissions, it failed to take actions, such as withholding funds, to address the state agency’s failure to meet grant requirements. It also says the FRA did not ensure that California spending met Federal requirements, and did not identify all discrepancies.

The report also makes four recommendations on revising policies to better access when to take further action over noncompliance, assess risks of noncompliance, define a framework for determining minimum acceptable standards for plans involving grants, and provide guidance for the FRA to conduct detailed assessment of grant recipients’ procedures to comply with federal requirements.

A response from FRA Administrator Ron Batory, included as an appendix to the report, disputes some of its conclusions, saying “the draft report does not accurately reflect FRA’s actions related to the two California cooperative agreement or FRA’s grant oversight program;” that it incorrectly places responsibility on the FRA that belongs with the agency receiving the grant, and that it underreports the extent of FRA’s monitoring and other actions to facilitate California compliance, among other issues.

The report was requested by Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.), chairman of the House transportation Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials.

— Note: Dollar figure corrected to $2.55 billion at 10:50 a.m. CST on Jan. 27.
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