Transportation touts results in first annual report

klunney@govexec.com

The Transportation Department met three-fourths of its 1999 performance goals, the department announced Monday in its first-ever annual performance report.

In the only Cabinet-level press conference held to release an annual report so far this year, Transportation Secretary Rodney E. Slater and Deputy Secretary Mortimer L. Downey outlined the department's success in meeting 77 percent of its goals, while pledging to closely scrutinize the reasons some goals were not met.

"By any measure, the U.S. Department of Transportation showed excellent progress in fiscal year 1999," Slater said. "We've held ourselves to rigorous performance standards, we've set stretch goals, and we've shown ourselves to be good stewards of the American taxpayer's dollar."

Downey pointed out that any organization that continually achieves 100 percent of its goals may be setting its goals too low. Both Slater and Downey said the department had set ambitious goals, realizing DOT would not likely achieve all of them.

Transportation's release of its 1999 results comes as all major federal agencies release their first-ever annual reports under the 1993 Government Performance and Results Act. The reports were due to Congress by March 31.

DOT's strategic goals fall under several categories, including safety, mobility, economic growth and trade, human and natural environment, and national security. According to Slater, safety is Transportation's top priority. "Safety is our North Star-the star by which we are guided and by which we are willing to be judged," he said.

The department met 12 of its 21 safety-related goals in 1999, including a reduction in highway fatalities and the injured persons rate, a reduction in railway fatalities, and improved runway conditions at airports.

The number of highway motor vehicle fatalities decreased slightly in 1999, despite the growing economy. Historically, economic expansions have led to short-term increases in fatalities. However, motorcycle deaths rose 11 percent and speeding-related traffic deaths also rose slightly between 1998 and 1999-an increase that the department attributed in part to increased speed limits.

Slater said he has expanded DOT's mission, noting the important relationships between transportation, economic growth, trade, and environmental issues. "We had to work to define transportation beyond a public works plan," he said.

Slater said the department had made progress in lowering alcohol-related highway fatalities and mobile source emissions, but did not fully meet its goals.

The fatal aviation accident rate was up slightly from 1998 as well, but the annual report noted that it expected its "Safer Skies" initiative in conjunction with the aviation industry will be an important factor in reducing the overall fatal accident rate.

The department is trying to improve performance in several key areas:

  • Operational mistakes at the Federal Aviation Administration have been on the rise since 1996 and are expected to continue climbing, the report said. DOT does not expect the agency to meet its fiscal 2000 goal for operational effectiveness.
  • Although the number of runway incursions actually declined slightly from 1998 to 1999-from 325 to 322-the department's target goal of 270 was not met. Runway incursions occur when objects or people obstruct a runway in use.
  • According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), there have been no significant increases in seat belt use over the past five years. The seat belt use rate was 67 percent in 1999, missing the department's goal by 13 percent. NHTSA plans to broaden its Buckle Up America Campaign in each state, and work with states on passing stricter seat belt use laws.
  • The Coast Guard fleet, including cutters, patrol boats and port security units, failed to meet readiness standards.
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