By on October 2, 2009

(courtesy agc.org)

When President Obama championed the federal stimulus bill, transportation and infrastructure projects accounted for a relatively small chunk of the total tab ($787 billion). BUT the Powers That Be hyped it hard; the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) piece of the pie was going to generate more than half of the 3.5 million jobs the Obama administration promised to create or save (don’t get picky). ProPublica’s crack investigative squad now reports that the DOT is having a little trouble shoveling the spade-ready jobs out the proverbial door. “Of the $48 billion in transportation stimulus funds, so far DOT has paid out only $3.4 billion, or 7 percent of the total,” according to Sunshine State Rep. John Mica, the top ranking Republican on the House transportation committee. DOT spokeswoman Jill Zuckman had an answer for that one. “The amount of money spent on highways isn’t as important as the amount of money that’s been approved, which has reached $19.4 billion.” Do people really think like that? Holy shit. It gets worse . . .

Rep. James Oberstar of Minnesota, the committee’s Democratic chairman, said the stimulus money for highways and transit has already created or sustained 122,000 jobs. But after the hearing, his spokesman Jim Berard clarified that that was 122,000 ‘job months’ – one person working for one month.

It’s difficult to know how many jobs were actually created because some workers will get jobs for years while others will get jobs for days, depending on the scale of the project. So far, workers have worked 22 million job hours, according to the committee.

If those workers had been on the job since the start of the stimulus, it would have created or saved closer to 20,000 jobs – a fraction of what the committee reported.

“There’s really no intention of masking this, no intention of padding the numbers,” Berard said. “It was just a calculation that was done, but just presented orally in a shorthand for expediency’s sake.”

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15 Comments on “DOT Can’t Spend Stimulus Money Fast Enough. Literally....”


  • avatar
    Lorenzo

    We should all be rejoicing about this. The government has gotten so big and unwieldy, they’ve actually reached a limit to how fast they can spend the taxpayers’ money. It’s either that, or they’re so incompetent they can’t even spend pork fast enough. Either way, rejoicing is in order.

  • avatar
    grackle

    The problem is simple and occurs anytime massive amounts of federal money is doled out at the local level: The money must be distributed in some way that gives the local distributors the most political juice. How to use the funds to somehow reward campaign contributors, political allies, campaign contributors’ relatives, friends and business associates.

    Back in the days of Comprehensive Employment and Training Act(CETA) and its successor, Job Training Partnership Act(JTPA), municipalities and counties in some instances were forced to return federal funds because they could not find a way under various deadlines for the distribution of the funds to work around the various regulations having to do with how and under what circumstances the funds could be dispensed. What they couldn’t give to their buddies was returned to the federal treasury.

  • avatar
    50merc

    “they’re so incompetent they can’t even spend pork fast enough”

    Appropriating can be done quickly, but getting public works built takes considerable time. Apparently Congress didn’t ask and/or listen to people who actually know the many time-consuming steps involved in a highway or other construction job. Of course, many steps (e.g., environmental impact studies) are required by law.

    Not that agencies are blameless. Once while I was on legislative staff I checked on the status of funds that had been appropriated for emergency energy-saving projects. One college had pleaded it desperately needed new windows for old buildings. Three years later, the new windows still hadn’t been ordered.

  • avatar
    thoots

    I hope you won’t find some “actual facts” to be offensive in the typical government bash-fest we’ve got starting up here. Whatever the case, I’ll give it a shot:

    The real problem here is the concept of “shovel-ready.” While that term has been used over and over and over again, the simple fact is that Congress wrote the law in such a way that “shovel-ready” projects could NOT be funded with ARRA funds.

    You see, the very nature of “shovel-ready” projects mean that they have both been “designed,” and also “scheduled for funding.” If a project is ready for construction, then funding has been planned and identified for that project. It is “funded.”

    OK, so here comes Congress, which writes the law with one big rule: “You can’t ‘switch funding’ from an already-funded project and use ARRA funds for it.”

    Got that? It’s actually a relatively good rule — the ARRA funds are supposed to be “in addition to” existing funding, and not to be used “instead of” existing funding. Congress wanted both forms of funding to be used, and not some form of “we’ll just keep ‘our’ money in the bank, and use the ARRA funds for our projects, instead.” But it makes for one very specific reality:

    ARRA funds can’t be used for “shovel-ready” projects.

    So, all of the ARRA funded projects have had to be “new” ones, not already in the pipeline, not funded, not designed — not “shovel ready” by any means whatsoever.

    So, while people have been expecting to see massive amounts of money going to construction jobs, the fact is that the states — who actually build the projects, along with local government agencies — have been busy with non-construction stuff like putting lists of “new” projects together, putting them through federally-madated public review and approval processes, then finally getting to “preliminary engineering” phases wherein the projects have been designed, along with completing all of the environmental paperwork that the federal government mandates.

    Then, finally, after all of that stuff got done, then these “new” projects could actually go to construction. So, instead of, say, nine months of heavy construction work and spending, there has only been about three months — a veritable drop in the bucket of what will ultimately get spent as more projects get to construction, and all of them get further along towards completion.

    That’s the real story here: Yes, the money hasn’t gone out the door as fast as most folks expected, but it has been because Congress effectively prevented the funding of “shovel-ready” projects with the way they wrote the law.

  • avatar
    Juniper

    We have lots of road work being done. I guess our reps actually know how to apply for the money.
    RF please write something directly related to cars.
    Do a review about your new Benz so we can pillar you.

  • avatar
    Mike Kelley

    I love that the same liberals who put so many roadblocks out to building anything in this country are now vainly trying to blow billions of our tax dollars on construction jobs. By the time all the environmental impact studies, archeological studies, and God-knows what else are done, the present recession will be over. Of course they will then claim that they “saved the economy”.

  • avatar
    carlisimo

    What thoots said.

    I’m a structural engineer, and yes, it takes a long time from approving a project to starting construction. “Shovel ready” was always a stupid thing to say about stimulus projects… calculator ready would’ve been more accurate. Design takes a year or two for most projects.

    I’ve always been skeptical about the stimulus, but it beats tax cuts. And we need the infrastructure improvements anyway.

  • avatar
    unleashed

    By the time all the environmental impact studies, archeological studies, and God-knows what else are done, the present recession will be over.

    The recession won’t be over any time soon since the current government does everything in its powers to prolong and deepen the crisis.
    The country is effectively bankrupt.
    Only a fundamental shift in the economic, social and environmental policies will allow the country to dig itself out.

  • avatar
    gslippy

    Lorenzo is right – government ineptitude saves us from a lot of trouble. Just imagine how things would be if they enacted bad ideas efficiently.

  • avatar
    mpresley

    Even if it’s shovel ready, you’ve got to have qualified (maybe) people to do the job. Plus, with government, you’ve got to have the right demographic breakdown in order to qualify for the money. Make sure you’ve hired enough trans-gendered bendered black, lesbian heavy equipment operators, and so forth. Building our infrastructure, to me, makes more sense than foreign wars that, from a national interest standpoint, are questionable, but whenever a federal or state DOT is involved, expect major problems under the best of circumstances.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    What thoots said.

    Putting it another way, once it has been budgeted by the feds, the money then has to be allocated, and then the various agencies, state and local governments need to create projects, put them out for bid, and then hand out contracts. All of that usually takes awhile, given all the required steps.

    The problem with stimulus packages in a country like the US is that the lag times are long, particularly given the extensive use of private contractors. If the US was capable of handling things as quickly as the Chinese, then this wouldn’t be a problem. But we aren’t, so we don’t.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Pch101 :
    October 3rd, 2009 at 11:16 am

    If the US was capable of handling things as quickly as the Chinese, then this wouldn’t be a problem. But we aren’t, so we don’t.

    Worth mentioning: the Chinese handle things quickly because they just don’t give a shit about the people affected. Is a residential neighborhood in the way of a new high rise? Force the residents out and start bulldozing. Is the Three Gorges Dam going to flood out scores of small cities and villages? Tough luck, guys – move or else.

    I’ll take our system, warts and all, thanks.

  • avatar
    unleashed

    I’ll take our system, warts and all, thanks.

    Enjoy it while it lasts.
    Because the U.S. economy will only get worse, much worse.
    The imperfect Chinese are actually producing wealth while the Humanitarian U.S. are at full speed down the economic sink hole.

  • avatar
    hreardon

    The real story here is that nobody seems to have a concept of how long and slow these programs take to both ramp up and get rolling. I don’t care how many damned “shovel ready” projects you’ve got, there are contracts to be bid, engineering studies that must be finalized, environmental impact studies that must be submitted, local politicians who must sign off, etc.

    That anyone seriously thought the stimulus money would show up in large chunks within a few months of signing is laughable. A year from now if half of that money is spent, I’ll be surprised.

  • avatar
    jkumpire

    With respect,

    Yes, most of us understand the reality of starting projects. But a lot us who are government “bashers” also understand the screwed up economics of the plan to begin with.

    BTW, in my state, every highway construction or repair project currently going on (even one to fix a short piece of pavement on each side of a small overpass on a little used state route, maybe 1 mile or replaced pavement) has a massive sign that proclaims this is a shovel ready project paid for by the Stimulus bill. So either our Democratic governor is a massive liar, or the lead time on repairs and new construction has shrunk dramatically in my state. You chose what to believe.

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