OIG report: DOT rule processes need work

Jan. 7, 2005
The Department of Transportation (DOT) continues to make progress in issuing rules, especially old ones and those mandated by Congress with deadlines.

The Department of Transportation (DOT) continues to make progress in issuing rules, especially old ones and those mandated by Congress with deadlines. However, the operating administrations continue to miss internal milestones, and DOT needs to continue to work on reducing the number of old rulemakings, according to information from a December 2004 follow-up report by DOT's Office of the Inspector General (OIG).

Nevertheless, the report states that DOT has been making progress in managing its rulemaking process and meeting deadlines.

The OIG did not make any recommendations in the December report because DOT recently implemented recommendations included in an earlier OIG report (March 2004). The OIG thought it too early to see the overall results of the recent changes.

The initial DOT audit stemmed from a request from Rep James Oberstar, (D-MN), ranking Democratic member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.

Here are some highlights from the December 2004 follow-up report:

•Issuing significant rules: As compared to 1999, DOT completed 39 percent more rules in 2004.4 The average time to complete rules increased by approximately 1.5 years from 3.9 years in 1999 to 5.4 years in 2004. But the increase reflects the attention given by DOT to resolving old rules, either by publishing, withdrawing, or terminating them. Resolving old rules increases the overall average time to complete rules. For example, in 2004, DOT completed 10 rules over five years old. When these 10 rules are removed, the average time to complete a rule in 2004 is reduced to 2.6 years.

•Publishing deadline rules mandated by Congress: Since March 2004, DOT published six of the 13 mandated overdue rules with deadlines. Two additional mandated rules with deadlines were added during the current OIG review. The nine remaining rules are now overdue by an average of 9.3 years, compared to an average of 8.5 years during an OIG prior review.

•Publishing oldest rules: Of DOT’s 14 oldest rules (all more than 10 years old) that were identified in March 2004, four rules have been published. Since that report, no additional rules became 10 years old or older during the review. DOT had 93 significant rules in process at the beginning of the audit period July 1, 2003, and 85 significant rules were pending on June 30, 2004, the end of the audit period. These 85 rules were in various stages of the rulemaking process, with an average of 5.1 years and a median of 3.4 years. The 85 significant rules establish transportation policy for the transportation industry in the areas of safety, mobility, economic growth, and environment. For example, standards to reduce the incidence of collisions between trains and commercial motor vehicles.

The report stated that the DOT Secretary has taken an active interest in improving DOT’s rulemaking process and has emphasized to senior DOT managers the need to ensure that rules are completed in a timely manner, or that problems and issues causing delays are identified and fixed. Additionally, congressional interest in DOT’s rulemaking process has resulted in greater emphasis by DOT and several OIG audit reports in identifying ways to improve the rulemaking process.

Since the March 2004 report, DOT has taken steps to further improve the methods by which it manages and oversees the rulemaking process. The operating administrations are now using the rulemaking tracking system as a management tool and continue to enter more complete information in the tracking system.

Further, DOT has implemented a process whereby a different operating administration meets with the Deputy Secretary, the Chief of Staff, and the General Counsel in a weekly regulatory review meeting to discuss any issues associated with the rules in the operating administration’s significant and non-significant pending rules reports.

The significant and non-significant pending rules report provides the next target date for each open rule and the progress made in meeting that date. DOT is using this report to help the operating administrations focus attention on rules at risk of missing their target dates and to prioritize their rulemaking efforts.

To see the December 2004 report, click here.