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Public Roads - Jan/Feb 2008

Jan/Feb 2008
Issue No:
Vol. 71 No. 4
Publication Number:
Table of Contents

Guest Editorial

Ringing in a New Year of Vigilance

J. Richard Capka
Federal Highway Administration
Calvin L. Scovel III
Inspector General
U.S. Department of Transportation

As the Nation heralds the New Year, many of us will make resolutions to improve our personal and professional lives. One resolution that could have a significant, positive effect on the goals of transportation agencies is to renew our commitment to improve contract oversight and stewardship of taxpayer dollars. This step, in turn, potentially could stretch the budgets of transportation agencies by millions.

To meet transportation goals, every year Federal, State, and local agencies award contracts and grants for construction, maintenance, and operation of the Nation's highways. Not all of those funds, however, are spent as intended. In fact, the U.S. Department of Transportation's Office of Inspector General (OIG) has seen an increase in the number of fraud investigations. Five years ago, 158 contract procurement and grant fraud investigations were underway; today that number has increased by almost 70 percent, to 228 investigations. Although some of this increase can be attributed to a heightened OIG emphasis on these types of investigations, the bottom line is that fraud under any circumstances is unacceptable. The impacts of fraud are especially severe given that the transportation community's current fiscal resources are unable to meet growing demands.

The Federal Government and State departments of transportation (DOTs) share responsibility for stewardship and oversight and are accountable for taxpayer investments in the transportation system. Therefore, it is incumbent on all transportation providers to promote efforts aimed at preventing and detecting fraudulent schemes. Education and outreach at all levels of government are critical to this shared responsibility.

To help with oversight, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) is working with States to equip them with tools to manage the responsibilities associated with using Federal funds. In addition to sharing lessons learned, FHWA encourages State DOT employees to attend its course Contract Administration Core Curriculum, which can help educate staff about ways to detect fraud, waste, and abuse.

OIG also supports a number of efforts to heighten awareness of fraud in transportation programs and activities, promote stewardship and oversight, and encourage communication and dialogue. These efforts include cosponsoring a biennial National Fraud Awareness Conference on Transportation Infrastructure Programs (the next one will be held July 28-31, 2008, in Chicago, IL) and operating a national fraud hotline (1-800-424-9071) that provides a mechanism for individuals to report suspected instances of fraud.

Two articles in this issue of Public Roads —"Upholding the Public Trust" and "Is Your Construction Project a Victim of Crime?"—are intended to help government employees and contractors recognize and identify various types of fraud practices. The best tool, however, always will be careful and vigilant oversight and stewardship of the public's investment in the transportation system.