Recent GAO reports

From the Government Accountability Office (GAO):


DEFINED BENEFIT PENSIONS: Plan Freezes Affect Millions of Participants and May Pose Retirement Income Challenges, GAO-08-817 (pdf, 62pp/1.2MB), July 21, 2008

In private defined benefit (DB) plans, freezes limit some or all future pension accruals. GAO reports on the implications of freezes for sponsors, participants, and the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC). Among its conclusions:
While plan freezes are not as irrevocable as plan terminations, they are indicative of the system’s continued erosion. Yet freezes are just one of the many developments now affecting the DB system. The broad ranging Pension Protection Act of 2006, changes in accounting rules, rising retiree health care costs and health care costs generally, a weak economy, and falling interest rates all represent challenges that DB plan sponsors may need to confront.

STATE AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT PENSION PLANS: Current Structure and Funded Status, GAO-08-983T (pdf, 28pp/492kB), July 10, 2008

GAO found, in part:
Most state and local government pension plans have enough invested resources set aside to fund the benefits they are scheduled to pay over the next several decades....pension benefits are generally not at risk in the near term because current assets and new contributions may be sufficient to pay benefits for several years. Still, many governments have often contributed less than the amount needed to improve or maintain funded ratios. Low contributions raise concerns about the future funded status.


Surface Transportation Programs: Proposals Highlight Key Issues and Challenges in Restructuring the Programs, GAO-08-843R (pdf, 28pp/944kB), July 29, 2008

To examine the needs of the surface transportation system, Congress established the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission (Policy Commission) and the National Surface Transportation Infrastructure Financing Commission (Finance Commission). The Policy Commission issued its final report in Jan. 2008. The Financing Commission issued an interim report (pdf, 40pp/1.45MB) in Feb. 2008 and is expected to issue its final report in Nov. GAO used the Policy Commission's final report as a point of reference in this study.

GAO reviewed seven restructuring proposals from stakeholders and identified five common themes:
  • defining a federal role in freight and goods movement
  • linking transportation policy and funding to environment and energy sectors
  • promoting better management of existing assets, e.g., existing infrastructure
  • incorporating performance and accountability to ensure commensurate public benefits
  • using multiple funding sources for long-term sustainability of programs

PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION: Improvements Are Needed to More Fully Assess Predicted Impacts of New Starts Projects, GAO-08-844 (pdf, 67pp/936kB), July 25, 2008

Through New Starts, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) recommends new fixed guideway transit projects. The Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU) requires GAO to annually review the New Starts process. Here GAO discusses (1) the extent to which justification criteria capture total project benefits, (2) FTA's challenges in improving the New Starts program, and (3) options for evaluating New Starts projects.

TRAFFIC SAFETY PROGRAMS: Progress, States' Challenges, and Issues for Reauthorization, GAO-08-990T (pdf, 35pp/444kB), July 16, 2008

SAFETEA-LU authorized the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to award traffic safety grants to states and implement a high visibility enforcement (HVE) program. SAFETEA-LU expires in 2009, and this report addresses NHTSA's oversight of its programs, the programs' effectiveness, and Congress's reauthorization of SAFETEA-LU.

TRAFFIC SAFETY: NHTSA's Improved Oversight Could Identify Opportunities to Strengthen Management and Safety in Some States, GAO-08-788 (pdf, 53pp/668kB), July 14, 2008

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is responsible for overseeing state highway traffic safety programs. This study discusses NHTSA's State and Community Highway Safety Grant program (23 USC § 402, commonly referred to as the Section 402 program), which requires each state to have a highway safety program. GAO made site visits to 8 states--AZ, ID, ME, MN, NV, TX, WV, and WI--to assess NHTSA's oversight and states' use of Section 402 grants.

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