The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office says that public works projects boosted economic growth more than other aspects, like tax credits for first-time home buyers, of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Supporters and detractors used the legislation's one-year anniversary to point why the stimulus package is/isn't working as planned.

U.S. House of Representatives Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chair James Oberstar (D-Minn.) announced that 24,000 roads are being fixed; 1,100 bridge repairs were made; 139 airports received funding; 1,124 dams and levees will be safer by the time funds expire; and almost one-third of Americans will have better wastewater service. So it's not surprising that members of the Associated General Contractors of America expect to have more stimulus-funded work this year than last year as nontransportation-related jobs kick in.

But the law wasn't designed just to kick-start our economic engine. As if that goal weren't challenging enough, it also ushered in a new era of “open government.” To that end, the independent Web site ProPublica (“journalism in the public interest”) publishes a list of contractors working on stimulus projects even though they are or have been investigated for waste, fraud, and abuse. Many are in the roads and bridges sector.

In the water and wastewater sector, EPAI Administrator Lisa Jackson traveled the nation touting projects made possible by the age agency's $6 billion allocation for state revolving loan programs. Of the federal agencies and programs that fund public works, EPA was farthest along in committing its windfall (see (see table). Public agencies that successfully competed against private service providers, such as American Water, for a piece of the agency's relatively paltry provision are sinking more time and energy than they expected into addressing the law's Buy American, prevailing-wage, and reporting requirements.

As I write this, the 27 federal agencies and programs included in the stimulus package face a critical deadline of their own.

The stimulus package gives them until March 2 to commit — i.e., obligate to a specific project — their allocation or risk losing it. As of the day before, according to ProPublica, this was the status of six agencies key to the nation's infrastructure.

Now Congress is working on a second stimulus package that includes infrastructure funding (see “Senate reauthorizes highway spending” on page 13). So if you missed the boat last year (for whatever reason), you've got a second chance.


Stephanie Johnston
Editor in Chief