Physical Infrastructure: Preliminary Observations on Options for Improving Climate Resilience of Transportation Infrastructure

Fast Facts

Climate changes threaten the U.S. transportation system, according to the National Climate Assessment. Flooding, temperature changes, etc. will have an impact on roads, ports, and more.

This testimony discusses transportation infrastructure resilience.

Information in our Disaster Resilience Framework can help agencies to address the effects of climate change, including the financial risks—an issue on our High Risk List. It discusses, for example, using incentives to encourage private companies to start risk reduction projects. The Federal Highway Administration encourages state resilience efforts with technical help, research support, and more.

Delaware has worked on resilience enhancements for its State Route 1, which routinely floods and is vulnerable to sea level rise.

Highlights

What GAO Found

GAO’s Disaster Resilience Framework serves as a guide for analysis of federal actions to facilitate and promote resilience to natural disasters and changes in the climate across many policy areas, including transportation. The framework is organized around three guiding principles—information, integration, and incentives—and a series of questions that can help identify opportunities to enhance federal efforts to promote disaster resilience. Specifically, the integration principle states that integrated analysis and planning can help decision makers take coherent and coordinated actions to promote resilience. For example, in October 2019, GAO reported that no federal agency, interagency collaborative effort, or other organizational arrangement has been established to implement a strategic approach to climate resilience investment that includes periodically identifying and prioritizing projects. Such an approach could supplement individual agency climate resilience efforts and help target federal resources toward high-priority projects. GAO recommended that Congress consider establishing a federal organizational arrangement to periodically identify and prioritize climate resilience projects for federal investment.

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has taken steps to encourage states to enhance the climate resilience of federally funded roads by developing agency policy, providing technical assistance to states, and supporting climate resilience research funding, among other actions. In addition, as part of ongoing work on FHWA’s federal-aid highway program, GAO identified options that could further enhance the climate resilience of federally funded roads, based on a literature review and interviews with knowledgeable stakeholders (see table). Some of these options are similar to recommendations made previously by GAO. Further, according to FHWA officials, some of these options would likely require additional congressional direction or authority to implement.

Options to further enhance resilience of federally funded roads, as suggested by relevant literature and knowledgeable stakeholders

Option

Integrate climate resilience into Federal Highway Administration policy and guidance.

Update design standards to account for climate change and resilience best practices.

Provide authoritative, actionable, forward-looking climate information.

Add climate resilience funding eligibility requirements, conditions, or criteria to formula grant programs.

Expand the availability of discretionary funding for climate resilience improvements.

Alter the Emergency Relief (ER) program by providing incentives for, or conditioning funding on, pre-disaster resilience actions.

Expand the availability of ER funding for post-disaster climate resilience improvements.

Establish additional climate resilience planning or project requirements.

Link climate resilience actions or requirements to incentives or penalties.

Condition eligibility, funding, or project approval on compliance with climate resilience policy and guidance.

Source: GAO analysis of literature and interviews with knowledgeable stakeholders. | GAO-21-561T

Why GAO Did This Study

Since 2013, GAO has included Limiting the Federal Government’s Fiscal Exposure by Better Managing Climate Change Risks in its High Risk List. In addition, according to the U.S. Global Change Research Program, a changing climate threatens the performance of the U.S. transportation system across all modes, including roads. Congress authorized approximately $43 billion of fiscal year 2021 formula funding for the U.S. Department of Transportation’s FHWA’s federal-aid highway program, which primarily funds highway planning and construction.

This testimony discusses (1) GAO’s framework for identifying opportunities to enhance the climate resilience of transportation infrastructure; and (2) preliminary observations on actions taken and options to further enhance the climate resilience of federally funded roads. This work is based on GAO reports issued from 2014 through 2019, a review of literature, and interviews conducted with FHWA officials and knowledgeable stakeholders conducted as part of on-going work. GAO expects to issue a report on the results of its ongoing work in summer 2021.

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    Pursuant to federal law, the Department of the Interior's (Interior) Bureau of Land Management (BLM) offers leases competitively through auction or noncompetitively for a fee if an adequate bid is not received. Competitive leases for oil and gas development on federal lands produced greater revenues, on average, than noncompetitive leases for fiscal years 2003 through 2019, according to GAO's analysis of revenues reported by Interior's Office of Natural Resources Revenue (ONRR) and leases from BLM. For this period, about 72,800 competitive leases produced about $14.3 billion in revenues—while total of 100,300 leases produced $16.1 billion. Average revenues from competitive leases over this time period were nearly 3 times greater than revenues from noncompetitive leases; about $196,000 and $66,000, respectively. Based on GAO's analysis of leases that started in fiscal years 2003 through 2009, competitive leases produced oil and gas more often than noncompetitive leases during the leases' 10-year primary term. Further, competitive leases with high bonus bids (bids above $100 per acre) were more likely to produce oil and gas in their 10-year primary terms than both competitive leases with lower bonus bids and noncompetitive leases. Specifically, about 26 percent of competitive leases that sold with bonus bids above $100 per acre produced oil and gas and generated royalties in their primary term compared with about 2 percent for competitive leases that sold at the minimum bid of $2 per acre and about 1 percent for noncompetitive leases. GAO's analysis showed that competitive leases with high bonus bids generated over 3 times the amount of cumulative, or total, royalties by the end of their primary term than all other competitive and noncompetitive leases combined (see fig.). Cumulative Royalties from Competitive Leases, by Bonus Bid, and Noncompetitive Leases That Started in Fiscal Years 2003 through 2009 According to BLM, federal onshore oil and gas leases generate about $3 billion annually in federal revenues, including royalties, one-time bonus bid payments, and rents. The Federal Onshore Oil and Gas Leasing Reform Act of 1987 requires that public lands available for oil and gas leasing first be offered under a competitive bidding process. BLM offers leases with 10-year primary terms competitively through auction or, if the tract of land does not receive an adequate bid, noncompetitively for a fee. The minimum bid is $2 per acre, and bids at or above the minimum are called bonus bids. ONRR is to collect revenues from oil and gas leases in accordance with the specific terms and conditions outlined in the leases, including revenues from rents and royalties. Lessees are to pay rent annually until production begins on the leased land and then pay royalties as a percentage of oil and gas production. Lease terms may be extended beyond the primary term if, for example, the lease is producing oil or gas. GAO was asked to review oil and gas leasing on federal lands. This report describes oil and gas revenues from competitive and noncompetitive leases for fiscal years 2003 through 2019. GAO analyzed federal lease and revenue data and interviewed Interior officials and four experts knowledgeable about federal oil and gas leasing. To consistently compare leases over their lifecycle, GAO analyzed revenues that occurred within the leases' primary term (first 10 years) for leases that started in fiscal years 2003 through 2009. For more information, contact Frank Rusco at (202) 512-3841 or RuscoF@gao.gov.
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  • Global Health Security: USAID and CDC Funding, Activities, and Assessments of Countries’ Capacities to Address Infectious Disease Threats before COVID-19 Onset
    In U.S GAO News
    Pour la version française de cette page, voir GAO-21-484. What GAO Found As of March 31, 2020, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had obligated a combined total of more than $1.2 billion and disbursed about $1 billion for global health security (GHS) activities, using funds appropriated in fiscal years 2015 through 2019. USAID and CDC supported activities to help build countries' capacities in 11 technical areas related to addressing infectious disease threats. The obligated funding supported GHS activities in at least 34 countries, including 25 identified as Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA) partner countries. U.S.-Supported Activities in Ethiopia to Strengthen Global Health Security U.S. officials' assessments of 17 GHSA partner countries' capacities to address infectious disease threats showed that at the end of fiscal year 2019, most countries had some capacity in each of the 11 technical areas but faced various challenges. U.S. interagency country teams produce biannual capacity assessments that USAID and CDC headquarters officials use to track the countries' progress. According to fiscal year 2019 assessment reports, 14 countries had developed or demonstrated capacity in most technical areas. In addition, the reports showed the majority of capacities in each country had remained stable or increased since 2016 and 2017. The technical area antimicrobial resistance showed the largest numbers of capacity increases—for example, in the development of surveillance systems. GAO's analysis of the progress reports found the most common challenges to developing GHS capacity were weaknesses in government institutions, constrained resources, and insufficient human capital. According to agency officials, some challenges can be overcome with additional U.S. government funding, technical support, or diplomatic efforts, but many other challenges remain outside the U.S. government's control. This is a public version of a sensitive report that GAO issued in February 2021. Information that USAID and CDC deemed sensitive has been omitted. Why GAO Did This Study The outbreak of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) in December 2019 demonstrated that infectious diseases can lead to catastrophic loss of life and sustained damage to the global economy. USAID and CDC have led U.S. efforts to strengthen GHS—that is, global capacity to prepare for, detect, and respond to infectious disease threats and to reduce or prevent their spread across borders. These efforts include work related to the multilateral GHSA initiative, which aims to accelerate progress toward compliance with international health regulations and other agreements. House Report 114-693 contained a provision for GAO to review the use of GHS funds. In this report, GAO examines, for the 5 fiscal years before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, (1) the status of USAID's and CDC's GHS funding and activities and (2) U.S. agencies' assessments, at the end of fiscal year 2019, of GHSA partner countries' capacities to address infectious disease threats and of challenges these countries faced in building capacity. GAO analyzed agency, interagency, and international organization documents. GAO also interviewed agency officials in Washington, D.C., and Atlanta, Georgia, and in Ethiopia, Indonesia, Senegal, and Vietnam. GAO selected these four countries on the basis of factors such as the presence of staff from multiple U.S. agencies. In addition, GAO analyzed interagency assessments of countries' capacities to address infectious disease threats in fiscal year 2019 and compared them with baseline assessments from 2016 and 2017. For more information, contact David Gootnick at (202) 512-3149 or gootnickd@gao.gov.
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  • DOD Acquisition Reform: Increased Focus on Knowledge Needed to Achieve Intended Performance and Innovation Outcomes
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found As the Department of Defense (DOD) drives to deliver innovative capabilities faster to keep pace with evolving threats and emerging adversaries, knowledge—about programs' cost, schedule, and technology—increases the likelihood that these capabilities will be achieved. GAO annually assesses selected DOD weapon programs and their likely outcomes by analyzing: (1) the soundness of a program's business case—which provides evidence that the warfighter's needs are valid and the concept can be produced within existing resources—at program start, and (2) the knowledge a program attains at other key points in the acquisition process. For example, the Navy's Ford-class aircraft carrier program began with a weak business case, including an unrealistic cost estimate based on unproven technologies, resulting in over $2 billion in cost growth and years of delays to date for the lead ship. DOD's new acquisition framework uses six different acquisition pathways and offers programs a chance to tailor acquisition approaches, providing options to speed up the process. However, preliminary findings from GAO's 2021 annual assessment show that programs using the new middle-tier pathway face increasing risk that they will fall short of expected performance goals as a result of starting without sound business cases. While these programs are intended to be streamlined, business case information is critical for decision makers to know if a program is likely to meet its goals (see figure below). Completion of Key Business Case Documents by Selected Middle-tier Acquisition Programs The framework also introduces new considerations for program oversight and reporting. DOD has made some progress in developing its approach to oversight for programs using the new pathways, but questions remain about what metrics DOD will use for internal oversight and report to Congress for external oversight. Why GAO Did This Study DOD spends billions of dollars annually to acquire new major weapon systems, such as aircraft, ships, and satellites, and deliver them to the warfighter. GAO has reviewed individual weapon programs for many years and conducted its annual assessment of selected major DOD weapon programs for 19 years. GAO added DOD's weapon system acquisition process to its High-Risk List in 1990. This statement discusses: (1) the performance of selected DOD weapon programs and the role of a sound business case in that performance, (2) DOD's progress implementing recent acquisition reforms, (3) the status of DOD's actions to support innovation, and (4) DOD's efforts to improve data for acquisition oversight. This statement is drawn primarily from GAO's extensive body of work on DOD's acquisition of weapon systems, science and technology, and acquisition reforms conducted from 2004–2021, and observations from an ongoing annual review of selected DOD weapon programs. To perform this work, GAO reviewed DOD documentation, program information, and relevant legislation. GAO also interviewed DOD officials.
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    In Crime News
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