WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Members of the U.S. House of Representatives on Friday assailed federal agencies for delays in starting capital works projects under the economic stimulus plan, saying they were lessening the impact of the $875 billion program intended to revive the economy.
“I’m troubled that there is considerable unevenness in the implementation in non-highway and transit agencies,” said Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman James Oberstar at a hearing.
In a report the committee released this week, almost all of the infrastructure-related jobs created or saved by the stimulus were in highway repairs. The clean water portions, which involve state revolving loan funds, had created or saved barely any.
“State Revolving Loan Funds are not moving their projects out as fast as I anticipated and as fast as the SRF managers told us they would be able to do last December and early in January,” Oberstar said.
The highest ranking Republican on the committee, John Mica, agreed. Like Oberstar, he was encouraged by speedy deployment of millions of dollars for transportation but said he worried other projects would be delayed until the weather turns cold and prevents outdoor construction work.
It could be “a pretty grim winter,” he said.
President Barack Obama and the U.S. Congress promised that the plan enacted in February would provide billions for infrastructure, put construction workers laid off during the housing downturn back to work and improve the country’s ailing capital works.
Craig Hooks, acting assistant administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, told the hearing much of its stimulus money has been made available to states.
Of the $7.22 billion given to EPA under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, it has obligated, or pledged to spend, more than $5.8 billion.
“We actually are concentrating our efforts in assisting the states in breaking down any sort of barriers they may have,” he said.
The few projects that have started are expected to ramp up significantly in the next few months, he said.
But members of Congress were still concerned.
“When I look at the number of contracts that are out to bid, it’s just state after state, zero after zero. The number of jobs that are created or sustained -- zero after zero,” said Maryland’s Donna Edwards. “If we’re out there telling the American people we put out all of this money that’s being paid for by their children and their grandchildren, surely we’ve got to be creating jobs.”
Anthony Costa, acting commissioner of the public buildings service at the General Services Administration, said his agency has already obligated $1 billion of the $5.5 billion it was allotted for the plan’s two-year life and is on track to obligate another $1 billion by the end of the calendar year.
The Army Corps of Engineers, meanwhile, has distributed $3.5 billion of its $4.4 billion to field offices to begin civil works projects. But only $684 million has been obligated in contracts and $84 million made in outlays, Terrence Salt, Acting Assistant Secretary of the Army told the hearing.
While the Transportation Department did not testify at the hearing, the Government Accountability Office, the independent government auditors, said that $16.8 billion of the $48 billion designated for transportation projects over two years has been obligated to more than 5,700 projects nationwide. Almost half of that money has gone to road repair.
Reporting by Lisa Lambert; Editing by James Dalgleish
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