A new White House report says that bids on stimulus-act projects came in so low that agencies were able to fund 3,000 additional projects beyond what they initially projected.
The 26-page White House report, released Oct. 1, is a broad overview of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act as of Sept. 30, the date by which funds in many, but not all, categories had to be obligated--that is, committed to specific projects.
ENR has estimated that the stimulus act contained $130 billion in construction-related spending.
From the early months of the stimulus program last year, construction firms reported fierce competition and long lists of bidders.
The report says, "Contract bids, in some cases, have come in anywhere from 6 to 20% below expected costs, allowing agencies to do more work within their original [ARRA] appropriations."
More specifically, it says eight agencies--the Depts. of Defense, Interior, Labor, Transportation, and Veterans Affairs, and the Environmental Protection Agency and General Services Administration--reported they were able to fund more than 3,000 ARRA projects beyond their initially projected totals.
The report also says, "Some agencies will return bid savings to the Treasury when statutory deadlines require it."
Of ARRA's $226 billion for "contracts, grants and loans"--which includes nearly all of the construction funding--only $18 billion remains to be obligated, the White House report says.
That includes $7.2 billion for high-speed rail awarded to various states, though not obligated yet. The report notes that the Dept. of Transportation has until Sept. 30, 2012, to obligate the ARRA high-speed-rail money. So far, DOT has obligated only about $800 million for the new rail program.
Also still unobligated is $8.7 billion in clean-energy loan guarantees and borrowing authority for regional electric-power administrations. The report says the energy funds are "partially awarded" and observes that the Dept. of Energy has until Sept. 30, 2011, to obligate the loan guarantees,
Congressional Republicans have strongly criticized the stimulus act, focusing in part on the amount of funds actually spent, or "outlayed."
Vice President Joe Biden said in a letter transmitting the report to President Obama that agencies had outlayed on grants or contracts or paid out in the form of tax breaks a total of $551 billion, or 70% of the stimulus act's $787 billion in overall funding
(The $787 billion was the Congressional Budget Office's cost estimate shortly before the measure's Feb. 17, 2009, enactment.)
Digging into the details, the new White House report says $59 billion in stimulus infrastructure funding and $28 billion in "extended spending" has been obligated but not yet turned into actual outlays.
Of the $59 billion for infrastructure, about $35 billion is estimated to be outlayed in 2011, the report says. The $35 billion includes formula highway and water projects as well as competitive programs such as smart grid and broadband.
It says, "In many cases competitive programs took longer to obligate, as awardees needed to be determined through an application process--processes and competitions that were often new, and had to be designed from scratch."
The $28 billion in obligated but not yet disbursed "extended spending" includes $9 billion for construction. That includes such projects as military hospitals, VA medical facility repairs and upgrades and other federal buildings.
The report says, "Because of the size of these projects, there is some lag between when funds are obligated and when they are outlayed." It adds that $6 billion of the $9 billion not yet outlayed will be spent in 2011.