House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman James Oberstar (D-Minn.) discussed American Recovery and Reinvestment Act results and a new jobs bill in a Feb. 3, one-on-one interview with ENR. Edited excerpts follow.
Q: Are you pleased with the agencies’ pace at putting out work to bid?
A: [I’m] very pleased with the way the state DOTs responded [in highways]. ... And the reason it all worked so well is that we have a formula by which our funding goes out. We also had told state DOTs, “We expect you to have projects ... ready for bidding.” And most of them took that to heart.
The airport projects went out quickly.Transit agencies ... were similarly very quick, very ready.
EPA had difficulty working out the concerns that state agencies had on the “Buy America” provision. But we pointed out, “You have waiver authority,” and [EPA] finally went to work on that and got those things worked out. ... The Corps of Engineers got off to a much slower start than I expected, but they’ve caught up.
Q: It seems the General Services Administration is one of the slowest agencies to award ARRA money.
A: They have been. ... And some of that [is due to] refining their inventory between government-owned facilities and rentals.
Q: So overall, you're pleased?
A: The only complaint I have is we should have had $250 billion instead of the $62 billion in our [ARRA] committee programs.
Q: What’s next?
A: We need the Jobs for Main Street continuation of stimulus [and] the certainty, the stability, of a long-term transportation bill.
Q: Senate action on a jobs bill?
A: Just pass something. We go to conference; we'll settle it in conference.