OIG report: Amtrak needs a more robust program management framework for Gateway Program

Feb. 9, 2022
The report recommends further development of its program management plan to boost its chances of delivering the Gateway Program on time, within scope and on budget.

A new report from the Amtrak Office of Inspector General (OIG) urges Amtrak to develop a comprehensive program management framework to better position itself to succeed in the delivery of the Gateway Program, its highest priority infrastructure investment.

The report, Governance: Company Needs a Comprehensive Framework to Successfully Manage its Commitments to the Gateway Program, notes the 50-year-old railroad is pivoting to “executing and managing its participation in an infrastructure program of this scale.”

The Gateway Program consists of several projects, including the high-profile projects involving the Portal North Bridge and Hudson River Tunnel, and involves multiple state and regional partners investing more than $30 billion to add capacity and resiliency to the Northeast Corridor (NEC).

OIG explains that given the enormity of the company’s commitments over the next decade, and the fact that major projects are already underway, the report noted the company has an opportunity now to build this framework to better prepare itself to succeed with the program.

OIG determined Amtrak’s program management plan submitted in 2021 lacks key details such as how a its plans to manage, monitor and control the program.

“Our analysis found…that the plan does not identify or describe the processes the company will use to develop and execute the program so they are repeatable and consistent across projects. Without such defined processes, the company risks reacting to issues and demands as they arise instead of conducting its work in a disciplined manner to help ensure that it meets its commitments on time, in scope and in budget,” a summary of the report from OIG Assistant Inspector General, Audits, Jim Morrison reads.

OIG notes prior work it has performed on previous programs determined early planning deficiencies as the reason for schedule delays, cost overruns and strains on partner relationships. The report on Gateway identifies three challenges the railroad is experiencing because it has not conducted planning as part of its program management the program. These challenges include:

  • While Amtrak is adding staff for the program, it has not fully determined the personnel requirements or developed plans to address them for the Gateway Program, which leaves Amtrak’s core team understaffed and overtasked.
  • How Amtrak will collect and provide comprehensive and consolidated information on the program’s overall status to all internal company stakeholders with responsibilities for Gateway has not been determined, which leaves certain employees and key decision makers unaware of the program status.
  • A broader program risk assessment has not been conducted. OIG notes Amtrak has assessed risks to individual projects in coordination with its partners, but a broader assessment of potential impacts to other company acquisitions or projects would better prepare decision makers in addressing risks that could hinder the railroad’s ability to deliver its commitments.

The OIG recommended that Amtrak further develop its program management framework by building out its program management plan; assessing its current and future resource needs; implementing communication protocols to manage how it will generate, collect and distribute program information; and developing and implementing a risk management process for the program.

In a letter responding to the report, Amtrak Executive Vice President Capital Delivery Laura Mason says the railroad agrees with the report’s recommendations and notes “the timeframe that the draft audit covers was one of the most productive and successful periods for the Gateway Program.”

Mason also explains the draft report took place when Amtrak was moving “from an unprecedented low point in operations and revenue caused by the worldwide pandemic to its current position of equally unprecedented support by Congress and the [Biden] Administration with the opportunity and responsibility to deliver the Gateway Program, and billions of dollars more besides, in railroad improvements.”

Regarding the recommendations, Amtrak committed to provide a revised plan to include a restructuring of its Capital Delivery organization and procedures for document control, quality management and other protocols with a target completion date of June 30, 2022. Also targeted for June is a commitment from Amtrak to develop a written communication management plan that includes the use of reports and incorporates this information into the revised program management plan.

Additionally, Amtrak is targeting a May 31, 2022, completion date to develop an organization chart and hiring plan to fill new or vacant positions. The same May 2022 date is the target to develop a risk management process, onboard a dedicated risk management specialist and incorporate a risk management process into its revised program management plan.

More information is included in the full report which can be downloaded on the OIG’s website.

About the Author

Mischa Wanek-Libman | Group Editorial Director

Mischa Wanek-Libman serves as editor in chief of Mass Transit magazine and group editorial director of the Infrastructure and Aviation Group at Endeavor Business Media. She is responsible for developing and maintaining the editorial direction of the group and is based in the western suburbs of Chicago.

Wanek-Libman has spent more than 20 years covering transportation issues including construction projects and engineering challenges for various commuter railroads and transit agencies. She has been recognized for editorial excellence through her individual work, as well as for collaborative content. 

She is an active member of the American Public Transportation Association's Marketing and Communications Committee and serves as a Board Observer on the National Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association (NRC) Board of Directors.  

She is a graduate of Drake University, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism and Mass Communication with a major in magazine journalism and a minor in business management.