In the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act’s first 77 days on the books, only $28.5 billion of the law’s $787.2-billion total has turned into actual outlays. Few of those hard dollars have flowed into construction programs. ARRA outlays by the Dept. of Transportation, Environmental Protection Agency and General Services Administration for buildings totaled only $42.5 million as of May 12.

ARRA Outlays Small, So Far
Sources: Congressional Budget Office, Office of The Vice President, Quarterly Report On ARRA

The Obama administration’s first quarterly report on the economic stimulus, released on May 13, says obligations—binding spending agreements—totaled more than $88 billion as of May 5, which is 15% of ARRA’s $575.3 billion in appropriations and direct spending. Of the $28.5 billion in outlays, $15.9 billion, or 56%, is medical assistance payments to states.

Vice President Joe Biden, who issued the 21-page report, says there has been “significant progress” in implementing the stimulus. “We remain ahead of schedule in most programs, and, due to efficiencies and sound management, many projects are coming in under budget,” he says.

DOT is a leader in construction-related ARRA obligations, with $11.7 billion, mostly for highways. But DOT’s outlays were only $40.4 million.

Ken Simonson, Associated General Contractors’ chief economist, says the stimulus numbers are “disappointing but not surprising, given the steps that have to occur between the time a governor or a Cabinet secretary agency announces what projects will be funded and the actual spending of the money by contractors.” He adds, “We should be seeing [ARRA construction outlays] in the billions, not the millions, by the second half of 2009.”

Agencies are rolling out more stimulus plans. On May 15, DOT published criteria for $1.5 billion in ARRA discretionary surface-transportation grants, and the Dept. of Energy announced $2.4 billion for carbon-capture and storage work.

The Housing and Urban Development Dept. on May 11 released plans for $995 million in ARRA discretionary grants to upgrade public housing. The program includes $600 million for energy-efficiency improvements, $200 million for projects delayed for lack of funding, $100 million for housing-project renovation or new construction and $95 million for housing for the elderly or people with disabilities. HUD will take applications from June 1 to July 21 for energy-efficiency grants and June 1 to Aug. 18 for other categories.

The National Science Foundation announced on May 11 it will award $200 million in ARRA aid to renovate academic research facilities. NSF anticipates awarding about 100 to 120 grants, most of them less than $2 million. Applicants’ letters of intent are due July 1 and full proposals by Aug. 24.