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Buttigieg grilled over rollout of infrastructure funds by House committee



Dive Brief:

  • Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg faced questions on the rollout and use of funds from the 2021 infrastructure law from members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee during a Transportation Department oversight hearing Wednesday.  
  • “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,” said Committee Chair Sam Graves, R-Mo., in opening remarks.
  • Concerns expressed about the pace of the rollout contrast with reports earlier this year of growth in the number and size of infrastructure contracts and growth in revenues attributed to the infrastructure law and other federal initiatives.

Dive Insight:

While Democratic members of the committee largely praised the Biden administration’s actions to implement the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, Republican members raised issues with climate and equity requirements of the grant funding. “From what I can see, your office is simply writing blank checks to fulfill Mr. Biden’s climate initiatives while leaving the average Joe in the dust,” said Texas Rep. Brian Babin.

“And the one concern I have is, with all this focus on equity, how are we ensuring that Americans’ taxpayer dollars are going to the most important projects that support everyone, that support all of society, including, obviously, disadvantaged communities, and no matter how that may be defined?” asked David Rouzer, R-N.C.

Graves questioned the transportation secretary about the pace at which funds are being distributed to projects across the U.S. “A 2023 Associated General Contractors survey of its member companies found that just a mere 5% of companies who responded [said] that they have worked on IIJA-funded projects to date, and only 6% who responded indicated they had even successfully bid on projects for which work had yet to begin,” he said.

“We must ensure that regulatory burdens and confusion over guidance are removed in order to efficiently administer infrastructure programs,” Graves said.

Buttigieg countered, stating that “The Biden administration has over 37,000 infrastructure projects moving forward in every state and territory.” He added that there is a gap between when a project is authorized or approved and when construction starts. “But you have my commitment that anything that’s under our department’s control we are going to move as swiftly as possible,” he told the committee.

Earlier this year, the American Road & Transportation Builders Association found that the dollar value of all transportation project contract awards grew 25% from 2021 to 2022, with the number of contracts up 12.4%, to 39,500. ARTBA Chief Economist Alison Premo Black told Smart Cities Dive in a March interview that she saw that as “a very positive sign that money from the federal investment is starting to make its way into the project pipeline.”

Large engineering, design and construction companies reported strong revenue growth in the most recent quarter. AECOM CEO Troy Rudd said on the company’s Aug. 7 earnings call that “funding for key infrastructure initiatives is advancing,” reflecting “increasing activity for the IIJA, Inflation Reduction Act, and robust state and local infrastructure investment.” 

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