Se­na­tor says bil­lions wasted on stim­u­lus

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY STEPHEN DINAN AND KARA ROW­LAND

Self-ap­pointed waste-watcher Sen. Tom Coburn says he’s al­ready iden­ti­fied as much as $5.5 bil­lion in waste­ful or bad projects among the eco­nomic-stim­u­lus ex­pen­di­tures on tap.

The Ok­la­homa Repub­li­can, in a re­port re­leased June 16, ar­gues that while there have been suc­cesses, he’s found 100 ques­tion­able de­ci­sions. Among them is the case of an Ok­la­homa town that is get­ting $1.4 mil­lion for a wa­ter project: Fed­eral re­stric­tions that come with the money have raised the project’s cost by nearly $2 mil­lion. The town is plan­ning to raise util­ity taxes to cover in­creased costs.

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, how­ever, says the re­port is rid­dled with er­rors, and, taken al­to­gether, the spending so far has been “a great suc­cess” that has pro­duced jobs across the coun­try.

“With 20,000 projects ap­proved, there are bound to be some mis­takes,” said Ed De­Seve, an Obama ad­viser on stim­u­lus spending. “When we find them, we have been trans­par­ent about it and worked on a bi­par­ti­san ba­sis to shut them down im­me­di­ately.

“Se­na­tor Coburn’s re­port, how­ever, is filled with in­ac­cu­ra­cies, in­clud­ing crit­i­cisms of projects that have al­ready been stopped, projects that never were ap­proved and some projects that are work­ing quite well. If Se­na­tor Coburn has found any prob­lem­atic projects, we will ad­dress them im­me­di­ately. But much of this seems to be lit­tle more an ob­jec­tion to the Re­cov­ery Act it­self, which Se­na­tor Coburn op­posed.”

The $787 bil­lion stim­u­lus bill passed in Fe­bru­ary, with Pres­i­dent Obama say­ing it would pro­vide jobs and crit­ics fear­ing it would boost U.S. debt without do­ing much to help the econ­omy. While say­ing the bill has helped, Mr. Obama two weeks ago ac-


knowl­edged that his ad­min­is­tra­tion needs to get the money out faster.

As with so much of the stim­u­lus bill, waste ap­pears to de­pend on who’s do­ing the eval­u­at­ing.

Mr. Coburn blasts $3.5 mil­lion for bike-path construction in Mil­ford, Mass., say­ing the state still has $80 mil­lion in pre­vi­ous un­spent money for bike paths. He also calls out a Rochester, N.Y., plan to spend $360,000 for en­ergy-ef­fi­cient street lights and ques­tions a Mi­ami plan to use $2.1 mil­lion to re­lo­cate an ag­ing bus ter­mi­nal.

But the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion says with re­peated ob­jec­tions to bike paths or al­ter­na­tive-en­ergy projects, Mr. Coburn’s op­po­si­tion seems to be more ide­o­log­i­cal than based on waste.

Of­fi­cials say they are ad­just­ing to crit­i­cism and point to an in­stance when a road and an en­vi­ron­men­tal cleanup were both set for the same area. Af­ter ques­tions were raised by Sen. Pat Roberts, Kansas Repub­li­can, the ad­min­is­tra­tion ad­justed the sched­ule so the road­work would hap­pen first, mak­ing sure there wouldn’t be a need for a sec­ond cleanup later.

One of the en­vi­ron­men­tal projects Mr. Coburn takes aim at is in Florida, where state trans­porta­tion of­fi­cials have de­voted $3.4 mil­lion to tackling road­kill on U.S. High­way 27 near Lake Jack­son.

A 13-foot tun­nel is be­ing con­structed un­der the high­way to ac­com­mo­date the more than 60 species of an­i­mals that have met an un­timely end on the road, which most fre­quently claims the lives of tur­tles.

The wildlife cross­ing is only in the de­sign stages, how­ever, and re­quires $6 mil­lion to be com­pleted.

The se­na­tor also sin­gles out a Ne­vada firm fired for mis­han­dling a weath­er­iza­tion pro­gram; the com­pany was given $2 mil­lion in tax­payer funds to re­sume its work.

Mr. Coburn said that con­trary to Mr. Obama’s pledge, the Web site that is sup­posed to give Amer­i­cans a look at how the money is be­ing spent is not up to the task.

“Tax­pay­ers who will be left pay­ing for ev­ery waste­ful stim­u­lus project de­serve a full ac­count­ing of where their money is go­ing,” he said.

Some of Mr. Coburn’s tar­gets in the re­port have al­ready been halted.

He ob­jected to more than $1 mil­lion in stim­u­lus funds go­ing to­ward re­pair­ing a guardrail around a dried-up lake that re­ceives few vis­i­tors. The man­made Op­tima Lake in the Ok­la­homa Pan­han­dle was built in the 1960s and never filled up with wa­ter. The Army Corps of En­gi­neers ini­tially said the new $1.15 mil­lion guardrail was needed for pub­lic safety, but skep­ti­cism by Mr. Coburn and lo­cal of­fi­cials scuttled that project ear­lier this month, ac­cord­ing to lo­cal news re­ports.

Mr. Coburn also ar­gues that the phrase “shovel-ready” doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily de­note im­por­tance. Rather than re­pair­ing a fail­ing bridge in Bloom­ing Grove, Wis., that ac­com­mo­dates more than 85,000 cars a day, state of­fi­cials are in­stead tar­get­ing 37 lit­tle-used ru­ral bridges.

In one case, $430,000 was used to fund re­pairs to an Iowa County bridge that car­ries about 10 cars a day. Of­fi­cials are pump­ing $840,000 into an­other bridge that sees an av­er­age of 260 cars a day.


Sen. Tom Coburn, Ok­la­homa Repub­li­can, re­leased a re­port June 17 on what he views as waste­ful use of eco­nomic-stim­u­lus funds, claims the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion dis­putes in most cases.

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