Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Feds freeze Georgia Department of Transportation Grants

At a moment when mass transit is taking center stage as a solution to transportation problems nationwide, a federal report has concluded that the Georgia Department of Transportation’s transit program is riddled with financial management problems, according to a report obtained by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The problems were so severe that the federal government has frozen DOT’s transit grants, which average about $28 million a year, including some from the federal stimulus program. The report cast doubt on whether DOT could manage grants for the commuter rail line proposed to go south through Lovejoy.

● A Georgia grant that funded a bus route with no stops in Georgia.

● A financial reporting system that misstated the time period for reports and used the wrong kind of accounting to calculate them.

● Reimbursement requests in which the documentation did not receive even a cursory review.

● Life insurance premiums that one transit operator charged to “office supplies.”

A spokesman for the federal agency, Paul Griffo, said the grants had been frozen and the release of the money was conditioned on getting a satisfactory action plan from DOT. Griffo said such a plan has been filed, and Spear said DOT is confident the freeze would be lifted after a meeting Friday.

The review said that DOT lacked adequate technical resources, policies and procedures to properly manage such a large project.

There is far more than that at stake. The Obama administration seems to be making high-speed rail its signature transportation initiative, and the federal stimulus bill included $8 billion to jump-start a national network that could have lines in Georgia.

Meyer said he didn’t know whether the problems were only due to sparse resources — DOT’s Intermodal Division has 23 employees handling rail, transit, aviation and waterways, in an agency of 5,400 — or if there was a culture of sloppiness.

The State DOT is in disarray.

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