Speech: Statement of the Honorable Ken Salazar Secretary of the Interior before the Committee on the Budget on the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act

Last edited 09/29/2021

United States Senate - Committee on the Budget

Chairman Spratt, Ranking Member Ryan, and Members of the Committee, thank you for giving me the opportunity to testify today.

It is good to be here with Secretary Vilsack from the Department of Agriculture and Secretary LaHood from the Department of Transportation to discuss the work that is going on across the country under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

When I was sworn in as President Obama's Secretary of the Interior just over six months ago, we were in the throes of the worst economic crisis in generations. We were losing 700,000 jobs a month. Bank lending was frozen. And we were at risk of falling off an economic cliff not seen since the Great Depression.

The economic crisis President Obama inherited when he took office was years in the making. Years of lax oversight. Years of irresponsible behavior at the highest levels. Years of problems that, unfortunately, cannot be solved overnight. America's recovery will take time.

But make no mistake: we have come a long way in the six short months since January. Our economy is stabilizing. Help is reaching those hardest hit by this recession. Confidence is returning. And America has begun to rebuild.

The Recovery Act is working. We see it working through the investments that the Department of the Interior is making through the Recovery Act.

Congress entrusted Interior with the responsibility of investing $3 billion to create jobs restoring America's national parks and treasured landscapes, building clean drinking water infrastructure for rural communities, fixing and upgrading aging schools in Indian Country, and taking on other critically important projects.

We are making these investments swiftly, on the eighteen month timeline that Congress established. But we are also making these investments responsibly, to ensure that taxpayer dollars are not going to waste. Every project must be worthy of the public's expenditure. Everycontract must be competed in a fair and open manner. And everything we do must be transparentand open to public scrutiny.

We are meeting those goals, and I am proud of the results we have seen so far. Since Congress passed the Recovery Act, Interior and its bureaus have identified 3,382 projects which meet the high standards we have set.

Ninety percent of the $3 billion we are investing is helping us meet long-deferred maintenance needs that have built up in recent years on roads, trails, facilities, water infrastructure, and in the habitat we manage. The National Park System alone has over $8 billion in deferred maintenance priorities. And there are many more on the 500 million acres – or 20% of the nation's landmass – that we manage on behalf of the American people.

But we are making swift progress. Since we released our final list of Recovery Act projects in late April, Interior has obligated $305 million in Recovery Act funding, which we estimate has already created approximately 3,200 jobs. 400 projects are under way. By the end of October, we will have obligated nearly $1.1 billion. And in the six months after that, we expect to obligate another $1 billion. This pace is consistent with the construction-based nature of the majority of our projects.

Just as you can't build a new house overnight, some of our projects will take time to complete. They will, however, employ people at every step of the way. Surveyors, architects, contractors, carpenters, plumbers, electricians… not to mention all those who build and sell the materials that are going into these projects: Companies that sell solar panels. Firms that design streamgages.

We are seeing the benefits of Interior's Recovery Act investments in communities across the country.

It's companies like DLM Contracting in Bozeman, Montana. In a normal summer construction season, DLM employs 25 to 30 people. But this year, there was no work. They bid on 20 jobs last winter, before the Recovery Act, and got none. Since then, they have won two Recovery Act bids, including a $7.1 million road project in Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota. Brad Lewis, the co-owner, says the Recovery Act “made the difference for the company this year.” They've hired workers. They're getting moving again.

It's companies like AJC Architects in Salt Lake City. Jill Jones is the owner. She says she would have lost over a third of her staff without the Recovery Act work her firm is doing for the National Park Service and other federal agencies. Thanks to the Recovery Act projects, they are holding strong. Jill's employees know their jobs are secure. “The Recovery Act has changed the confidence level of the 22 people working here,” Jill says, “and I believe it has a ripple effect that will move across the country as more and more of these Recovery Act projects hit the ground.”

And it's people like Kelly Hanson. He is a carpenter for Northern Management Services of Boise, Idaho, and one of 34 tradesmen and laborers who are working on the renovation of the San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge headquarters. He says: “I come from Idaho where the little towns are getting hurt first. A lot of the people I used to work for have lost everything. Here in California they have never seen it so bad. The stimulus money has cut through the red tape and put us to work. I would be out of a job without it.”

We are hearing from a lot of small businesses like these: a large percentage of Interior's obligated funds have been awarded to small and disadvantaged businesses. And we will hear more stories in the coming months.

In the next eight months, we will begin an additional $1.8 billion of work that will create or save 19,000 more jobs. Under the Recovery Act, we will see a school fixed in Standing Rock, North Dakota, and a new school rise on Indian lands in Chinle, Arizona. We will see 450,000 people in rural communities in South Dakota get clean drinking water from three water new water treatment facilities.

We will see drought-stricken communities in Californiaget some help, and we will make down payments on long-term water infrastructure needs in that state.

And we will see more and more young people get to work in the outdoors. The Fish and Wildlife Service's Northeast Region has doubled the size of its Youth Conservation Corps crews this summer to work on Recovery projects. The work they do will leave a lasting legacy on our public lands, and will inspire a new generation to serve their country and the great outdoors.

Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member Ryan, and Members of the Committee, I look forward to continuing to work closely with you to ensure that we are implementing the Recovery Act as swiftly, as openly, and as responsibly as the American people deserve.

The Office of Inspector General at Interior is also a key partner with us, for they are helping us implement the Recovery Act with a very robust set of internal controls to ensure adequate oversight and management of these funds.

We take our responsibilities under the Recovery Act very seriously, and we can report today that it is working. It is helping stabilize our economy. It is putting people back to work. And it is helping us protect our nation's treasured landscapes for generations to come.

Thank you.

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