U.S. GAO report: Climate Change - Future Federal Adaptation Efforts Could Better Support Local Infrastructure Decision Makers (GAO-13-242)

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) was asked to examine issues related to infrastructure decision making and climate change. The performance audit was conducted from October 2011 to April 2013.

This report illustrates the GAO's findings, including:

(1) the impacts of climate change on roads and bridges, wastewater systems, and NASA centers;

(2) the extent to which climate change is incorporated into infrastructure planning;

(3) factors that enabled some decision makers to implement adaptive measures; and

(4) federal efforts to address local adaptation needs, as well as potential opportunities for improvement.

The GAO reviewed climate change assessments; analyzed relevant reports; interviewed stakeholders from professional associations and federal agencies; and visited infrastructure projects and interviewed local decision makers at seven sites where adaptive measures have been implemented.

To examine what is known about the impacts of climate change on the nation's infrastructure, assessments from the National Research Council and the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) were reviewed. The road and bridge and wastewater management system infrastructure categories were selected because they are supported by significant federal funding and are the focus of specific federal adaptation initiatives. Also, NASA centers were selected for review because these facilities are large and manage mission critical assets that are difficult, if not impossible to move or replace.

Seven locations were visited where adaptation measures have been integrated into infrastructure project planning to varying degrees. These locations have considerable diversity in the types of infrastructure at issue, geographic settings, and other conditions. The adaptive measures themselves did not involve major overhauls of project plans or infrastructure systems, but instead provide examples of practical responses to observed or projected climate-related impacts.

From this research, the GAO has recommended that a federal entity designated by the Executive Office of the President (EOP) to work with agencies to clarify sources of local assistance for incorporating climate-related information and analysis into infrastructure planning, and communicate how such assistance will be provided over time. The GAO also recommends that the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency should work with relevant professional associations to incorporate climate change information into design standards.

Publication Date: April 12, 2013

Related Organizations:

  • U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO)


Resource Category:

Resource Types:

  • Assessment


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