On Monday, President Barack Obama unveiled a plan to streamline infrastructure projects to get the economy moving and improve the efficiency of government. According to a statement from the White House, the plan, which includes fast-tracking 14 projects around the country, is based on a Presidential Memorandum issued in late August at the recommendation of Obama’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness.
“Through the Presidential Memorandum, the president directed agencies to expedite environmental reviews and permit decisions for a selection of high-priority infrastructure projects that will create a significant number of jobs, have already identified necessary funding, and where the significant steps remaining before construction are within the control and jurisdiction of the federal government and can be completed within 18 months,” the statement read.
But at least one lawmaker, Rep. John L. Mica (R-FL), chair of the House’s Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said the streamlining amounted to a “drop in the bucket” when the entire infrastructure project process is mired in red tape.
“Unfortunately, they still haven’t learned ‘shovel ready’ is a national joke,” Mica said. “While the administration is pushing these projects forward with current red tape and rules, they just push further back or stall hundreds of other projects pending federal approval. We must expedite the review process for all projects, not just a handful. When the entire infrastructure project process is mired in red tape, the administration’s plan is a drop in the bucket compared to what must be done.
“I advocated expediting projects when the administration proposed its first stimulus and was touting ‘shovel-ready’ projects in 2009,” Mica added. “Now, more than two years later, 35% of infrastructure stimulus funds are still sitting in the U.S. Treasury, ‘shovel-ready’ has become a national joke, and the more than $787 billion stimulus has failed to deliver the jobs that were promised.”
(To see a complete list of the projects, click here)
According to the administration, it is “committed to reforming the federal permitting and environmental review process to ensure that it runs as efficiently as possible while continuing to protect the health and safety of all Americans, and to preserve opportunities for public participation in federal decision-making. The administration will apply broadly the information gathered while expediting these projects to further improve the permitting process for all projects.”
Sitting in the backdrop of this proposal is the president’s jobs bill, which was shot down yesterday by the Democratic-controlled U.S. Senate, and the highway reauthorization bill, which just received its eighth extension in September, this one until March 31, 2012, since its expiration in 2009.
“A six-year transportation reauthorization proposal by the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee that specifically cuts red tape for all projects and dramatically expedites the cumbersome process, and put people back to work across the country,” Mica said.
Both the Republican-controlled House and Democratic Senate have differing opinions on the fate of a new highway bill. Mica has pitched a six-year bill with spending at roughly $38 billion per year, based on the forecasted fuel tax revenues deposited into the Highway Trust Fund. The Senate, though, has countered with an Environment and Public Works Committee proposal that would spend $109 billion over two years.Obama’s $447 billion jobs bill, touted by the president as a job-creation bill back in August during an address to a joint session of Congress, went down to a 50-49 defeat in the Senate last night. Congressional democrats have said they may try to push through some of the initiatives as individual bills.