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Project on Government Oversight

POGO urges Department of Transportation investigation into Traffic Information Contract

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October 15, 2007 | By: Scott H. Amey, J.D.

The Honorable Mary Peters
Secretary
U.S. Department of Transportation
1200 New Jersey Ave, SE
Washington, DC 20590

Via Facsimile: (202) 366-3388
Hardcopy to follow

Dear Secretary Peters:

Founded in 1981, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) is an independent nonprofit that investigates and exposes corruption and other misconduct in order to achieve a more accountable federal government. POGO has a keen interest in government contracting matters, especially those relating to full and open competition in government spending. In recent months, POGO has become aware of the potential negative impact of the Transportation Technology Innovation and Demonstration (TTID) program, which the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) manages, on the widespread availability of real-time traffic information to travelers in many of our nation's most traffic congested cities. We believe that this program, as managed by the USDOT, is working against the public interest and possibly only in the interest of a single company.

As you are no doubt aware, the TTID program is a two-part plan to advance the deployment of transportation infrastructure that will ease traffic congestion in U.S. cities. The program was intended to provide additional traffic data from new sensors and to merge commercial and government traffic data to assist in local system planning and to provide information to the public and travelers.

The current management of the program, however, essentially provides a federally subsidized monopoly to Traffic.com. The TTID contract is problematic considering the recent rise in sole source contracts and earmarks. Even more troubling is the fact that, despite the language contained in Public Law 109-59 and a bipartisan effort led by Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Representative Anthony Weiner (D-NY) to open up this program to competition, the USDOT has chosen to continue to sustain Traffic.com's stronghold on this program. For example, eleven TTID agreements signed since the passage of that bill have been for Traffic.com, and none of those eleven were the beneficiary of open competition. Additionally, the recent solicitation for the TTID program for Dallas/Ft. Worth appeared to be written for Traffic.com, which discourages genuine competition – competitors generally will not spend the time or money to submit a proposal if the work appears to be steered to one company.

The USDOT's continued actions in recent years to steer contracts to Traffic.com is very troubling. Of particular concern is the fact that the normal 20 percent cash local agency match was waived from the local agency's perspective in all but three of the 27 TTID agreements, in direct contradiction to the department's own practices for earmarked ITS projects as expressed in its "ITS Lessons-Learned Knowledge Resource." By choosing to waive the normal local agency match, the USDOT has allowed 24 cities to work with Traffic.com when there is a likelihood that they would not have participated in the program absent the fee waiver.

Additionally, the local agency partner cannot share with the public the most valuable real-time information about traffic conditions that is subsidized from federal and taxpayer funds. We know, for example, that the Department actively promotes the 511 "national traveler information number," [1] which we agree has great potential to help travelers find the quickest and safest routes to their destinations. However, key real-time data from the TTID program in most cases cannot be used by local agencies to provide travel times on their own 511 system without paying Traffic.com a fee. Therefore, restrictions exist that essentially benefit Traffic.com at the expense of the local agency partner, the taxpayer and, ultimately, the traveling public.

The bottom line is that a program that was and is intended to increase the availability of real-time traffic information to travelers in many of our nation's most congested cities and to spur the commercial traveler information market in those cities is doing exactly the opposite. Yet, Traffic.com is in a great position to corner the real-time information market.

Because of the Department's continued support for non-competitive contracts, POGO encourages the USDOT to request that the Inspector General conduct an investigation into the TTID program and the Department's efforts to abide by Section 5508(D) which requires that all Part II contracts be awarded "on a competitive basis." This investigation will be a necessary first-step toward providing widespread real-time traffic information to the public.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter, I look forward to hearing from you in the near future.

Sincerely,

Scott H. Amey
General Counsel
scott@pogo.org

CC: USDOT Inspector General Calvin L. Scovel III

Senator Orrin Hatch

Representative Anthony Weiner

Representative James L. Oberstar, Chairman, U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee

Representative John L. Mica, Ranking Member, U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee

Representative Peter DeFazio, Chairman, Subcommittee on Highways and Transit, U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee

Representative John J. Duncan, Jr., Ranking Member, Subcommittee on Highways and Transit, U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee

Senator Daniel K. Inouye, Chairman, U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation

Senator Ted Stevens, Ranking Member, U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation

Senator Frank L. Lautenberg, Chairman, Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety and Security Subcommittee, U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation

Senator Gordon Smith, Ranking Member, Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety and Security Subcommittee, U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation

Representative Henry Waxman, Chairman, U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform

Representative Thomas M. Davis II, Ranking Member, U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform


Click here to view the Federal Highway Administration response to POGO’s call for adequate competition in traffic information program.  December 7, 2007
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1 Simply stated, 511 is a telephone number, available nationwide, that provides current information about travel conditions, allowing travelers to make better choices of time, mode of transportation, and route. 

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