Chairman Graves Opening Statement from DOT Oversight Hearing with Sec. Buttigieg
Opening remarks, as prepared, of Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Sam Graves (R-MO) from today’s hearing, entitled “Oversight of the Department of Transportation’s Policies and Programs”:
Thank you, Secretary Buttigieg, for being here today. We certainly have a lot to discuss.
As we near the two-year mark since passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), my focus remains on oversight of this funding and ensuring it is implemented efficiently, effectively, and adheres to the letter of the law.
Due to persistently high inflation, Americans continue to struggle to pay for food, clothing, gasoline, and other necessities with their hard-earned dollars. Companies working in the transportation space continue to face high prices on commodities and materials such as aggregates, asphalt and concrete, diesel fuel, and others.
The August 2023 Consumer Price Index (CPI) report found that the all-item index increased 3.7 percent, with the highest increase in the cost of gasoline, once again raising concerns that IIJA’s purchasing power may be eroded. That’s why the Department and Congress must ensure every single dollar from IIJA counts and is directed toward projects that safely and efficiently move people, move goods, and prepare our supply chain for future challenges.
However, many stakeholders have already expressed concerns about this Administration’s implementation of the infrastructure law, including the pace of implementation and whether it’s following the intent of the law. A 2023 Associated General Contractors (AGC) survey of its member companies found that just a mere five percent of companies who responded that they have worked on IIJA-funded projects to date, and only six percent who responded indicated they had even successfully bid on projects for which work had yet to begin.
We must ensure that regulatory burdens and confusion over guidance are removed in order to efficiently administer infrastructure programs. According to DOT, they have distributed or announced more than $184 billion in infrastructure funding. The DOT Office of Inspector General (OIG) repeatedly recognized the risks of fraud, waste, and abuse associated with IIJA funds.
For example, my understanding is that in a memo to you, the Inspector General warned of “significant implementation and oversight challenges” presented by these funds. Responding to OIG concerns, DOT indicated plans were in place for every program that received IIJA funding to complete a fraud risk assessment by the end of fiscal year 2023.
We look forward to receiving those assessments on time.
Furthermore, DOT has issued a number of grant requests and awards. As we’ve raised before, these grant programs should follow the intent of the law and focus on projects that actually improve our infrastructure network and mobility, and not use guidance that undercuts congressional direction just to accelerate projects that fit the Administration’s own agenda.
So it’s clear, we have work to do in managing current transportation policy and funding. But today we also are going to hear about fiscal year 2024 funding requests. After historic transportation funding increases from IIJA, the CARES Act, FY 2021 Consolidated Appropriations Act, the American Rescue Plan, and the Inflation Reduction Act, the Department’s 2024 budget requests a seven percent increase over 2023 levels.
Notable increases include a 300 percent increase for the Thriving Communities Initiative, a 93 percent increase for the Office of Civil Rights, a 29 percent increase for transit Capital Investment Grants (CIG), and new funding for a DOT EV fleet. Frankly, these requested increases seem ill-advised and unjustifiable after years of record spending.
We are responsible for targeting infrastructure investments to programs and projects that improve and expand our infrastructure and supply chain network to safely and efficiently move people and goods. Now more than ever, this Administration should be focused on real infrastructure improvements and policies that can help get us out of these crises.
With that, I again want to thank the Secretary for being with us today and I look forward to a productive hearing.
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