WASHINGTON - A federal watchdog agency has turned on a caution light over Department of Transportation plans for spending taxpayer money on intelligent transportation systems.
The General Accounting Office, a research agency for Congress, told lawmakers recently the Clinton administration is getting ahead of itself by planning to spend $100 million for ITS deployment next year.
ITS is the broad name for advanced technology aimed at improving transportation safety and efficiency. It includes everything from electronic message boards over the highway to planned systems for computer-controlled vehicles and roads.
Obstacles to deployment include 'a lack of technical knowledge and expertise among the state and local officials who will deploy the systems, a lack of quantitative data proving the systems' cost-effectiveness in solving transportation problems and a lack of funds to support these activities, in light of other transportation priorities,' the GAO wrote.
'It seems the cart is getting a bit before the horse,' said John Anderson, director of transportation issues for GAO.
The written critique of ITS, the second from GAO in two years, was part of the agency's review of the department's total budget request for fiscal 1999, which begins Oct. 1. Overall, the administration wants $250 million for ITS, a tiny fraction of the total budget but fully half of the Federal Highway Administration's planned spending for research and technology.
In response, highway agency administrator Kenneth Wykle told Automotive News last week, 'We think we are going about deploying ITS in a proper manner.'
He said the department is trying to shift toward shorter-term goals, such as cruise controls that automatically adapt to speeds of nearby vehicles, while continuing to make progress toward fully automated highways.
Other upbeat assessments of ITS are expected this week, when the Intelligent Transportation Society of America holds its annual meeting and exposition at Cobo Center in Detroit.
Among the highlights:
Transportation Secretary Rod-ney Slater is to address the Economic Club of Detroit today, May 4.
Executives from Chrysler Corp., Ford Motor Co. and General Motors are to present the auto industry's viewpoint on ITS trends in a panel discussion Tuesday, May 5.
A seminar on the use of computers in cars is scheduled for Thursday, May 7.