NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Evaluating and Improving the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery Grants

April 18, 2012

The Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grants are a discretionary federal grants program funded by Congress to invest in the country's ailing infrastructure.  Administered by the Department of Transportation (DOT), the grants have come in three separate waves, starting with TIGER I in the stimulus package, says Baruch Feigenbaum, a transportation policy analyst with the Reason Foundation.

The stated goals of the program are threefold: Preserve and create jobs; invest in transportation infrastructure that will provide long-term economic benefits; assist those most affected by the current economic downturn.

To this end, Congress appropriated $1.5 billion in stimulus funds for TIGER I grants distributed in February 2010, $600 million from the DOT budget for TIGER II grants distributed in November 2011, and $527 million from the DOT budget for TIGER III grants distributed in December 2011.

However, the program has been largely disappointing in living up to this advertised mandate.  This is due largely to the DOT's bungling of the selection process by which applicants sought and received grants.  The process was fraught with vague qualification standards and internal bias that derailed a program that otherwise might have fulfilled a vital need.

  • Metrics for assessing applicants were vague and lacked quantifiable measures.
  • The review process revealed that many projects that received lower recommendations were funded while "highly recommended" projects were not, with little justification offered.
  • The DOT documented little of its decision making, such that much-needed justifications for choices had little in concrete backing.
  • Geographic fairness, which was mandated by the law's creators, required that funding be allocated to each of the four U.S. regions equally (Northeast, Midwest, South, West), yet this requirement likely steered funds away from many of the best projects.
  • Grants were awarded disproportionately to Democratic districts: though the 112th Congress consisted of only 47 percent Democrats, their districts received 61 percent of the funds.
  • Insufficient economic analysis was conducted to determine the usefulness of funded projects.
  • Rural projects were often shown to have received special treatment and exceptions for standards.

Source: Baruch Feigenbaum, "Evaluating and Improving the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) Grants," Reason Foundation, April 2012.

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