By on May 5, 2011

One of President Obama’s signature achievements, passage of $812 billion in stimulus funds at the height of the recession, was labeled a failure by the chairman of the US House Transportation Committee, which had jurisdiction over about eight percent of the projects funded. In a hearing yesterday, Representative John Mica (R-Florida) explained that the money did not end up going to needed infrastructure projects.

“This will go down in history as one of the greatest failures of a government program to stimulate the economy that mankind has ever created,” Mica said. “This is a trillion-dollar lesson.”

Initially, the idea behind the stimulus was to create a $250 billion package with the most of the funding going toward infrastructure projects. The total amount of the package more than tripled, but the funds for infrastructure dwindled to just $64.1 billion. Of that amount, only $27.1 billion went to highways and bridges.

“I could not be more frustrated by the results that I see,” Mica said. “The total stimulus package was $787 billion and that’s been re-evaluated to over $800 billion, and still we have a stagnating economy…. Many of the jobs created were very temporary jobs.”

Committee Democrats defended the stimulus, suggesting the economy would have been in far worse shape had the money not been spent. Mica cited administrative problems with the spending. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) audited how effectively the Department of Transportation (DOT) disbursed grants, particularly for the high-speed rail and “TIGER” grants. Over $9.5 billion was handed out based on vague criteria.

“DOT cannot definitively demonstrate the basis for its award selections, particularly the reasons why recommended projects were selected for half the awards over highly recommended ones,” Phillip R. Herr, director of physical infrastructure for GAO, testified. “Developing internal documentation is a key part of accountability for decisions, and DOT guidance states that officials should explain how discretionary grant projects were selected when projects with the highest priority in a technical review were not funded. The absence of documentation can give rise to challenges to the integrity of the decisions made, and DOT is vulnerable to criticism that projects were selected for reasons other than merit.”

GAO also noted DOT’s failure to measure the potential for long-term benefits when selecting projects.


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28 Comments on “House Transportation Committee Blasts Transportation Stimulus...”

  • avatar

    Is there anyone that knows a lasting benefit from the stimulus? Is there a new Interstate somewhere, a new school, hospital, or power plant? Maybe a new National Park? An accomplishment that we can all take pride in, that unites us all as Americans.


    • 0 avatar

      Yep. There’s a sewage pumping station (or something like that) beside Highway 3 at Gorst, Washington that had the signage indicating that the funding came from the stimulus package.

    • 0 avatar
      Mr. Sparky

      Dinosaur National Monument got a new visitor center to replace their historic, condemned one. I’ve seen several road project while on vacation paid for by the act, so I’m really not bothered that a Republican thinks a goverment program is a failure. They’re genetically required to believe government is useless all while enjoying interstate highways, trash pick-up, public education, police protection, etc.

      The government has a handy site for looking up where stimulus funds have been spent.

  • avatar

    Prominent congressman doesn’t like something that opposing political party did last year, calls opposition party’s policies “a failure”. More news at 11.

    • 0 avatar

      Reasonable enough, but he seems to have a valid point here, since the stimulus was sold largely as a way to fix our roads and bridges, and put people to work doing it:

      The total amount of the package more than tripled, but the funds for infrastructure dwindled to just $64.1 billion. Of that amount, only $27.1 billion went to highways and bridges.

      This means that of $800 billion only 3.4% of the monies expended went to the promised purpose of road and bridge repair.

      I don’t know about you, but that seems shameful, no? You are selling something by talking about funding for popular causes, and then only 3.4% of the money allocated goes to those causes. If a private company did something like that, it would be fraud. Why isn’t it fraud when the government does it?


      • 0 avatar

        Wait, what? You’re taking a percentage of the entirety of the $800B bill.

        Nobody ever said the entire 2009 stimulus bill was entirely for road and bridge repair. I mean, where did you even get that idea? The transportation committee wanted “most” of the original $250 figure for its projects and ended up with eight percent. Let me let you in on a little secret: every Congressional committee wanted “most” of the money. There’s only so much you can spend on transportation.

        And hell, even the DOT’s share of it wasn’t entirely for road and bridge repair: there was also some in there for high-speed rail and airports and a number of other things. And that’s the DOT’s share of the “infrastructure” portion of the bill. (I know a car-focused site like this can lose sight of this fact but there are parts of “infrastructure” that you don’t drive on top of, like our increasingly decrepit power grid, our lagging communications infrastructure, water and sewage systems, etc.)

        So, yeah, listening to Mica here is like asking your local Chevy dealer if the Cruze is better than the Civic. I mean, I’m not criticizing Mica: badmouthing the opposing party is, essentially, his job, and if the situations were reversed I wouldn’t expect anything different from the other guys.

  • avatar

    The government wasting money. Now this is news.

    Actually, I just did some math. $800 billion stimulus. The population of the US is around 311 million, and there are about 105 million households. I calculate this at over $2.5 million per person and over $7.5 million per household.

    I have 5 in my household, so a per-person check would benefit me more, but I would be satisfied with the household amount. This would have been a helluva stimulus if every household in the country would have received $7.5 million around 2009. Heck, even stretch it out to be paid quarterly over 2 yrs. I’m not greedy.

    • 0 avatar

      There are a thousand million in a billion. Not a million million. That’s a trillion.

      Which is how much Obama puts on the credit card every 8 months.

    • 0 avatar

      check UR math

    • 0 avatar

      Your math is wrong.
      There are 1,000 millions in a billion.
      So 800 billions / 311 millions = $2,572

      not 2.5 million

    • 0 avatar

      yea, you are off a few orders of magnitude. 800E9/311E6=2572 dollars per person. It would still be arguable it would be better spent that way. However spending it on needed infrastructure maintenance, repair and construction is an investment with real financial returns that might just pay for the interest on the debt. Giving it to rich bankers to stave off well deserved bankruptcy is not going to do the same nor is giving it to people that will spend it on consumption.

    • 0 avatar

      Are you using the European definition of “one billion”? In the US it means 1,000,000,000.

  • avatar

    I always wonder how $812billion gets rounded up to $1 trillion. Because it sounds nice?
    Wasn`t something like 60% of the stimulus tax cuts – whether it was the $800 all working (and income tax paying) people received over two years or the AMT fix ($70 billion just for that). It wasn`t like $812 billion was spent on just infrastructure and the like.

    • 0 avatar

      About 35-36% of the stimulus total was called tax cuts. That’s disingenuous as a full third of that was not rate cuts at all but instead individual credits and corporate handouts. Paying people $1,000 to have a child or $8,000 to buy a house is not a tax cut. Even more so, paying banks $7,000,000,000 to buy each other out.

      • 0 avatar

        Excuse me 10% of the stimulus was the AMT fix – that is at the least a prevention of a tax increase. A further 110-15% went on the “making work pay” tax credit which people got – in essence a 2 year tax cut. The tax credits for buying a house were asked to be even larger and longer by Republicans – I recall the two Georgia Senators asking for $15K.

      • 0 avatar

        The AMT fix cost 70 billion. The payroll tax credit cost 116 billion. Those were the only broad tax cuts and between the two of them that’s well under one quarter of the stimulus.

  • avatar
    Shane Rimmer

    In my area, at least, there was a study commissioned that found that the stimulus was very successful:

  • avatar

    “Many of the jobs created were very temporary jobs”

    Hmmm, a Republican complaining that the government didn’t create permanent jobs. Kvetching or honest criticism? You do the math.

  • avatar

    Gutting of infrastructure projects form the stimulus bill aside, most jobs could be considered temporary – projects get completed, and the those performing the associated jobs move on to other projects. Some projects are “new”, some are maintenance. Of course, this country has a track record of neglecting infrastructure maintenance projects, so maybe a lot of people are being let go.

    People don’t realize that “roads” have limited lifespans (40 years in harsher climes?) and replacement costs probably exceed construction costs. Never mind resurfacing, repair, cleaning …

    As for infrastructure projects with stimulus funding, some had signs indicating that source – I recall hearing complaints from opponents that money was being wasted on said signs. Of course, some opponents weren’t going to let a PR opportunity go to waste and participated at ribbon-cutting ceremonies for those projects.

    • 0 avatar

      40 years? Why, in Pennsylvania, roads last maybe two or three years before the construction firm owned by the family of some local politician gets the contract to rebuild ‘er again. Let’s see some politicos step up to this problem (common in other states too) before we urinate away any more money on ‘roadbuilding stimulus’. Until then, we’re just digging holes and filling them back in. With Chinese money.

      • 0 avatar

        That’s just the road surface, not the road itself (piles, retaining walls, grading, etc.) The surface needs to be replaced more often and is inexpensive compared to everything below.

        But there is a lot of silliness in choosing which roads need to be resurfaced and when.

      • 0 avatar

        Here in Michigan, I’d swear someone in the road commission has a relative or a buddy in the concrete business. We insist on building roads from concrete (with no asphalt top-layer), pour a ton of salt on it during the winter and then feign surprise when the road is crumbling to bits the following spring…only to award another contract to re-build the road a year or two later.

  • avatar

    My understanding is that the Republicans are the ones to blame that so little stimulus money went to infrastructure projects. If you remember what was going a couple of years ago, the White House and Democrats in congress wanted most of stimulus money spent on infrastructure projects, education and research. The Republicans threatened to filibuster this labeling the stimulus bill projects as “pork barrel” spending. Instead, the Republicans insisted that much of the stimulus be given in form of tax breaks. This effectively gutted the infrastructure stimulus spending. Much of that $800 stimulus was NOT spent by the government. It was simply gives as a tax break. Now this R congressman John Mica complains that little money was spent on infrastructure? Can I say the H-word?

    • 0 avatar

      This country badly needs infrastructure repair – not only roads, bridges, tunnels and the like, but redoing the whole energy grid, updating the air traffic control system, etc.

      Investing in these repairs/updates would not only provide jobs but make transportation, energy transmission, etc. more efficient.

      Another reason why the infrastructure stimulus didn’t have the impact that was expected is that too many states, instead of spending the $$ that they received on immediate infrastructure repair, “put away” the funds for new projects (i.e. – new roads) which take time in getting all the studies, land acquisition, etc. done; that’s not what the $$ should be spent on.

  • avatar

    I’m shocked – shocked!!! – to find a Republican criticizing an Obama program.

  • avatar

    I’m in structural engineering and followed this pretty closely (after all, commercial projects had all but disappeared at that point).

    I won’t comment on how most of the money was spent, but I have to say any money going towards infrastructure feels more like deferred maintenance that was long overdue. And it did keep us afloat – a huge number of the companies in our industry (including architects, contractors, and all sorts of designers and other specialists) had cut the bone and only survived thanks to government work. (The commercial sector is picking up again, as of the first quarter of this year.)

    One issue was the emphasis on “shovel ready” projects. That made new projects nearly impossible: the design process is not that fast! It takes traffic engineers a while to lay stuff out (you can’t just add roads or lanes on a whim – it usually just moves the traffic jam), maybe another year for the roads and bridges to be designed and detailed, and THEN you can break out the shovels. So most of the money went to projects that were already designed. That includes a lot of maintenance. Important stuff, and it does give us designers some work, but it’s hard to feel like the stimulus bill actually created new infrastructure.

    And of course, there were tons of pork projects. Things that felt good to someone and ensured that the bill would pass, but weren’t all that important. The new lanes on 405 in Los Angeles, for example; they’ll just shift the traffic jam a few miles. A federal building here in San Francisco will be renovated to be more energy efficient and safer – not truly a waste of money, but you could argue that it’s makework.

    I’m a fan of high speed rail, but here in California it’s been bogged down by NIMBYism in one or two affluent neighborhoods. Big waste of time. At least it’s being managed by competent agencies; my company is involved on a project that isn’t. Just to make things worse, rightfully distrustful politicians have put so much oversight on some of these projects that the designers and builders are working under a crushing bureaucracy. They’re so obsessed with stopping government waste that we’re spending 10% of our time (and money) filling out paperwork proving that we’re not wasting government money!

    Blowing it all on a new electrical grid wouldn’t have helped me any, but I think it would’ve been more useful.

  • avatar
    Mike Kelley

    Here in Montana, quite a bit of the “stimulus” money seems to have gone for construction of bike paths. Here is a 50 mile long stretch from Missoula to Hamilton: As you can imagine, bike riding is a very seasonal activity here and these paths will be little used. Given our $1.5 trillion yearly deficits since 2008, spending billions on trivial crap like this is inexcusable.

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