Evaluating and Improving the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) Grants

Narrowing the focus to nationally important transportation projects with proven economic benefits

The Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grants constitute a discretionary federal grants program funded by Congress and administered by the Department of Transportation (DOT). TIGER I grants are a part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, better known as The Stimulus, while TIGER II and TIGER III grants are separate discretionary funding awards dispersed in November 2010 and December 2011 respectively.

This brief explains the purpose and history of the program, evaluates the program and concludes with ten ways that DOT could improve the program’s processes in order to reduce these problems. It evaluates the program’s strengths and weaknesses against eight measures:

  • Metrics
  • Review Process
  • The Quality of Supporting Documentation
  • Geographic Dispersions
  • Public Information
  • Political Equality
  • The Quality of Economic Analysis
  • The Rural/Urban Bias

The following is a selection of the more serious problems with the TIGER grants:

  • The metrics that DOT used to evaluate the applications lacked quantitative components.
  • Certain funding applications contained incorrect information that the DOT used in press releases to justify the funding of those applications.  DOT provided limited information to the public explaining the process.
  • Grant funding was not determined by rigorous application of DOT’s own evaluation: DOT funded almost as many Recommended projects (25) as Highly Recommended projects (26). Meanwhile, only 23% of the 110 projects ranked Highly Recommended were funded. The Review Team offered no official written explanation of its selections. The Team offered notes in draft form and a memo; these only created more questions by explaining that in many cases the projects selected were no better than the projects not selected.
  • A disproportionately large number of projects were funded in Democratic districts. In TIGER I, TIGER II Capital, TIGER II Planning and TIGER III, Democratic districts were awarded a higher percentage of grants than their overall proportional representation. In TIGER III, districts represented by Democrats received 69% of the funding despite Democrats holding only 47% of the total congressional seats.

The TIGER program of continuous stimulus funding has too many flaws. The program in its current form should be abolished. Since the DOT plans to award another round of TIGER grants in 2012 using the same flawed process as the previous grants, Congress should force DOT to award these projects on a merit basis or eliminate this funding from its budget.

Although grant projects seldom work, if the DOT and Congress insist on creating a grant program, this new program should fund only nationally important transportation projects with proven economic benefits. Whether DOT could implement a program in a political environment is questionable. While infrastructure investments are critical for economic growth, the source of the funding and the choice of the project matter. Spending money indiscriminately on politically popular projects increases the deficit, requires localities to maintain questionable projects, and provides very little economic benefit.

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