House Committee Analyzes IIJA Implementation
A subcommittee of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee held a public hearing on March 28 to discuss implementation of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA). Even though the 2021 law is often referred to as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, only six House Republicans voted for it.
One of those “No” votes, was Rep. Rick Crawford (R-AR), who is now the chair of the Highway and Transit subcommittee. Before the March 28 hearing, he said, “our role today is to ensure effective and efficient execution of current law.” Oversight, he said, is not a Republican or Democratic issue “because Congress must fulfill its duty to ensure IIJA is being implemented as written and that resources are addressing our most pressing transportation infrastructure and supply chain needs.” Rep. Tracey Mann (R-KS), who also voted against the bill said, “If we’re going to spend 1.2 trillion dollars, let’s get 1.2 trillion dollars in return for this great country while we move forward.”
Rep. Crawford gave USDOT some credit noting that “the Department has made progress distributing formula funding and awarding discretionary grants.” But, he said, “there are very important areas where progress has stalled. In some cases, the Administration is creating confusion among states and stakeholders, which could result in needless project delays. For example, the Administration has not finalized its guidance on IIJA’s Buy America provisions that pertain to federally funded infrastructure projects.”
The hearing featured the following four witnesses who testified and answered questions from the subcommittee members.
- Marc D. Williams, on behalf of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO)
- Dwayne Boyd, on behalf of the National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association
- Aric Dreher, on behalf of the Associated Builders and Contractors
- Paula Hammond, on behalf of the American Road & Transportation Builders Association
The Democratic subcommittee members praised the IIJA law and asked the witnesses questions designed to elicit positive responses about its benefits. Rep. Colin Allred (D-TX) said, “if you’re in my district, IIJA is helping you right now and it’s creating jobs. So it was the right thing to do.”
After Rep. Henry Johnson (D-GA) referred to IIJA funds paying for important transit improvements in his own district, he asked “without federal funding how would America be able to rebuild old and build new infrastructure?” Paula Hammond, representing transportation construction firms, responded, “in short, we wouldn’t.”
Likewise, Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) asked Hammond to “speak to the economic and job creation benefits of large investment projects.” She responded by discussing the short-term benefits of well-paying construction jobs and the long-term payoff of keeping travelers safe, spurring economic growth, and enhancing the quality of life for Americans.
Hammond shared the following three maps / charts with the subcommittee to show the importance of federal investments, the increased number of awarded contracts, and the types of projects funded.
The Republican lawmakers’ questions and statements focused on regulations and permitting challenges associated with transportation projects. Rep. Mike Collins (R-GA), who owns a trucking company, said he’s been “beaten to death with rules, regulations, and taxes” for 30 years. Not a fan of IIJA, he said the infrastructure bill has hundreds of millions of dollars “tied up in green new deals and wasteful spending.” He added, “EV charging stations and EV buses won’t do anything for congestion, and that’s a huge problem in my area in Georgia.”
All the witnesses appreciated the funding provided in IIJA.
Dwayne Boyd, representing the National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association, said “even though each state DOT must wait until Congress moves the annual appropriations bills to distribute the funds authorized by IIJA, the certainty of knowing how much they are receiving from the Highway Trust Fund over the five-year period has provided needed clarity that is driving planning and execution of new construction.” He said when Congress only authorizes funding year-to-year, it is more difficult for transportation agencies and businesses to plan, and to invest in people and assets.
Boyd also talked about the need for permitting reform. Currently, he said, “it takes years, if not decades, to plan, approve and execute new infrastructure projects. He added, “Not only does this harm our businesses, but it significantly diminishes the intended impact of the IIJA’s investment and leaves projects exposed to more inflationary pressures.”
Boyd faulted EPA’s new rule relating to the Waters of the United States (WOTUS). His members are deeply concerned that it will further complicate an already burdensome process to establish a quarry and access reserves in existing facilities. He said, “this rule could add millions in costs and delays for accessing reserves and supplying new aggregates to markets.”
All the witnesses referred to workforce issues. Aric Dreher said the Associated Builders and Contractors anticipates the construction industry will need to attract half a million additional workers on top of the normal pace of hiring in 2023 to meet the demand for labor. Williams said, “The new technologies associated with this work require different skillsets and competencies than those of traditional state DOT employees.”
Marc Williams, representing AASHTO, said, “As a large portion of the state DOT workforce is composed of baby boomers, their impending retirements could result in significant knowledge loss. These retirements will also result in employees being promoted more quickly and, therefore, entering new positions with less experience and skills.”
Another topic repeatedly discussed was supply chain issues. Dreher said the construction industry is finding it difficult to source consistently available building materials, such as lumber, steel, and concrete. Contractors have also seen delays in the delivery of components and parts required for specialized equipment for construction, such as cranes and excavators.
None of the witnesses are satisfied with the IIJA’s Buy America provision. Dreher said the provisions and the cumbersome waiver process that has been implemented will exacerbate project delays and add costs. Boyd said, “Keep in mind that certain geographic areas of the country do not have the geologic deposits that allow local sourcing of stone, sand and gravel to make concrete, cement and asphalt to be used in construction.”
The witnesses talked about the confusion relating to the Buy America requirements. Boyd said, after a year of work to implement the new requirements, the Office of Management and Budget “issued a confusing and contradicting rule that revised previous guidance issued.” Hammond also raised concerns saying that “many of the parameters for Buy America implementation remain unsettled, underscoring our concerns about potential disruption of projects.”
Two issues that Congress will need to consider in future legislation are funding sources and the balance between funding formulas and grants.
Hammond jumped at the opportunity to say that the road builders support user fees such as charges based on vehicle miles traveled. She encouraged Congress to consider fees on electric vehicle usage so that they are also contributing to roadway investments.
Williams argued that discretionary grant programs are not an efficient tool for administering federal funds. He said, “The overwhelming number of grants included in the IIJA continues to create challenges for states, localities, and even USDOT.” For applicants, he explained, the cost of developing grant applications can be onerous, sometimes costing up to $200,000 per application. He said that U.S. DOT continues to face challenges in managing the large volume of grant programs they are expected to deliver. Likewise, Hammond said, “the advantage of formula programs is that most project selection decisions are made by those who know first-hand how best to improve mobility and safety in their communities—the states.”