The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reviews each State Highway Safety Office (SHSO) program once every three years through its Management Review (MR) process. The MR addresses both administrative and financial aspects of a state highway safety program. There are three categories of MR outcomes:
- Findings: non-compliance with Federal and/or State laws, regulations, rules, and/or written Federal policy and/or guidelines.
- Management considerations: items where NHTSA’s MR team believes the SHSO can improve
- Commendations: exemplary performance
SHSOs know that completing the MR process with no findings or management considerations and a commendation is like going to the dentist for your annual checkup and hearing the words, “no cavities” – a very welcome outcome. But just as a good dental checkup requires year-round prevention efforts, so does achieving a “clean” MR.
This was recently demonstrated by the Oregon Transportation Safety Division. Their MR visit took place in a record three days, rather than the usual five. Best of all, the draft 2015 MR Report contained zero findings and zero management considerations. The only written comment was a commendation for exemplary performance in using their Federal funds efficiently to enhance their highway safety program and significantly reduce carryforward.
Explaining the positive MR result, Troy Costales, Oregon Governor’s Highway Safety Representative, said, “The Oregon staff not only know the items in the MR and the GHSA Checklist, my team can also explain the ‘why’ behind those items. They know every aspect of their grants from the administrative to the program side of what the grant is (intended) to deliver.”
The biggest key to success in Oregon was continuous preparation. Following are some of the basic operational standards for their SHSO:
- Emphasis is placed every day on the critical need for effective administrative systems and attention to the rules and details as well as to the work of the subrecipients.
- The SHSO staff understands the rationale behind the requirements which helps them to ensure that the rules are followed even when procedural modifications become necessary.
- Subrecipients are trained, too, at the start of each grant year, to be aware of rule changes, forms, and expectations as well as to answer their questions.
- Program managers are very knowledgeable in both topical programs and the Federal/ State rules.
- All subrecipient files are well-organized with subject tabs which correspond to the items that will be examined during the MR. The daily work put into the accuracy and completeness of the file management system was singled out as exemplary for the third MR in a row.
- The accountant has the payment batch back-up at hand for every voucher and drawdown for the past three years. Everything is on file not only for the MR, but also for periodic Regional reviews.
- Key check points are built into the automation system for grant administration to ensure that the grant files are complete.
In the months leading up to the scheduled MR, the SHSO took a few extra steps:
- Every grant file for the past three years was checked for errors or missing documentation, and corrections were immediately made where needed.
- SHSO staff reviewed and took their time to answer every item within the GHSA MR Self-Assessment Checklist and took action to resolve any open or unclear items.
During the MR Team’s visit, all SHSO staff were required to be present, with no exceptions, to be available for any questions. In cases where a minor error might have been found, the SHSO staff worked to fix it quickly and posted the fix in the grant file.
Oregon’s success was likely aided by several other influential factors.
- The NHTSA Regional Team had conducted MRs in the State before and was very familiar with the staff and systems. This cut down on time needed during the MR to get answers to Team questions.
- Many of the members of the SHSO’s Operations team and the Governor’s Representative were on hand for the State’s previous MR, and some for multiple MRs. Their past experience was obviously valuable before, during and after the MR.
- The State does not solicit subrecipients but selects them based on problem identification and knowledge of their operational capabilities. This background allows the program staff to be prepared to explain their grant choices and helps ensures more successful projects.
It’s apparent that preparation and experience were key factors in Oregon’s successful 2015 MR. Other States have recently reported similar positive results. All commonly cite a year-round focus on compliance and continuous improvement of grant administration systems as contributing factors to their MR success.
The GHSA MR Self-Assessment Checklist and other related management tools can be found on the GHSA website on the Management Resources page.
- Troy Costales, Governor's Representative and Administrator
Oregon Transportation Safety Division