Emergency Transit Assistance: GAO-08-243

February 2008
GAO Reports;2/18/2008, p1
Government Document
Major disasters can disrupt transit operations, destroy vehicles and facilities, and impede the ability of people to reach essential relief and medical services and return to their homes and jobs. GAO determined (1) the federal role in assisting transit agencies after a major disaster; (2) the amounts, sources, and uses of federal disaster assistance for transit since 1998; (3) the factors that affected the timeliness and effectiveness of transit assistance after the 2005 Gulf Coast hurricanes; and (4) additional options for providing assistance to transit after a major disaster. GAO reviewed laws, regulations, and guidance; analyzed DOT and FEMA data; and interviewed officials with FEMA, DOT, state and local agencies, and others. The federal government provides transit services and assists transit agencies after a major disaster, primarily through two federal agencies--the Department of Homeland Security's Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Department of Transportation's (DOT) Federal Transit Administration (FTA). FEMA is authorized to provide emergency transportation services under the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (the Stafford Act). FTA administers federal support for transit but does not have a specific ongoing program or funding to help restore transit after disasters. FEMA and FTA have provided approximately $5.0 billion in disaster assistance to fund transit services and assist transit agencies since 1998, primarily through supplemental appropriations. The agencies provided nearly $4.7 billion to New York City after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, primarily to rebuild destroyed transit infrastructure, and another $232 million after the 2005 Gulf Coast hurricanes, largely to provide transit services for displaced populations. FEMA and FTA have also provided at least $51 million for other disasters since 1998. FEMA's database for its Public Assistance program does not have the capability to sort transit projects from other projects. GAO took steps to identify this funding, but the information presented should be considered minimum amounts. Additional funds may have been dedicated for transit purposes. GAO believes the magnitude of uncertainty is small compared with the $5.0 billion in assistance for transit. After the 2005 Gulf Coast hurricanes, FEMA and FTA faced challenges that impeded both the timeliness and effectiveness of their assistance to transit. Although the Stafford Act authorizes federal assistance to meet emergency needs, neither FEMA nor FTA had mechanisms to provide transit funding immediately after the disasters. FEMA also lacked guidance on the types of transit services it would fund and criteria for determining the duration of funding. As a result, funding approvals after the 2005 Gulf Coast hurricanes took from 1 month to as long as 4 months, and FEMA ended funding even though transit agencies in Louisiana and Mississippi believed that they...


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