GAO Critical of Amtrak’s Financial Reporting

The U.S. Government Accountability Office this week was sharply critical of Amtrak’s financial accounting, calling its reporting of financial information “inconsistent and incomplete.”

The GAO said this has hindered Amtrak’s ability to demonstrate the progress it has made since restructuring itself in 2012 into three business lines.

Those business units, the Northeast Corridor, state-supported services and long-distance trains, were expected to improve performance accountability for its performance.

A strategic management system implemented by the long-distance business unit reflects several leading performance management practices, such as linking line-of-business goals and initiatives to corporate-wide strategies, assigning personnel to execute the initiatives, and tracking the results.

However, Amtrak hasn’t implemented that system across its other business units. The GAO said that better reporting, planning and financial information could enhance decision-making at Amtrak

The Northeast Corridor Infrastructure and Operations Advisory Commission, which was created to develop the NEC’s infrastructure needs, has yet to develop criteria for setting the priorities of the projects in its five-year, $17.7 billion capital plan.

The consequences of that, the GAO said, is that Congress and the states lack information to inform their decisions about whether to provide additional funding for those plans.

Along those lines, the GAO said Amtrak has not developed clear information detailing specific costs and activities related to operations for state-supported routes that would be funded by federal money.

Among the recommendations that the GAO made are:
• Prioritizing the adoption of the strategic management system in all lines of business and functional departments.
• Externally reporting how Amtrak’s initiatives meet the goals established under the strategic management system.
• Being consistent in its monthly performance reports and the five-year financial plan to show all Amtrak revenue and expenses by major function for each line of business.
• Ensuring that depreciation expenses are appropriately allocated to the lines of business once underlying capital asset data are determined reliable.
• Delineating specific costs and activities for state-supported routes that are covered by the federal government and communicating that information to Congress, such as part of Amtrak’s annual budget request.

  • Prioritizing capital projects under the Northeast Corridor Commission.
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