Chairman Price Statement at Hearing on FY 2020 DOT Budget Request

2019-04-10 10:00

Congressman David Price (D-NC), Chair of the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee, delivered the following remarks at the Subcommittee's hearing on the fiscal year 2020 budget request for the Department of Transportation:

The hearing will come to order.  This morning we will examine the FY 2020 budget request for the Department of Transportation.  Secretary Chao, welcome back and thank you for joining us today.

Repairing and improving our infrastructure remains one of the top challenges facing our nation.  Our economy, quality of life, and international competitiveness depend upon robust transportation networks that can accommodate the movement of people and goods. 

Unfortunately, we aren’t keeping pace with demand.  The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that there is a U.S. infrastructure funding gap of $2 trillion over the next decade.  The U.S. economy is expected to lose almost $4 trillion in GDP between now and 2025 if this investment gap is not addressed.

And, by the way, we need to take a broad view of what infrastructure means, including related investments ranging from waterways and ports to drinking water systems, affordable housing, the electrical grid, trails and greenways, and high-speed broadband. 

Regrettably, I don’t think we can count on this Administration to be a serious partner in any major infrastructure effort.  We are still waiting for anything resembling a realistic plan.  Right now, we have a $200 billion placeholder in the budget request, and the President has refused to engage substantively on this topic other than two sentences during the State of the Union Address. 

Congress will need to step up, and I know this subcommittee will continue to play its part.  Under the leadership of my friend, Mr. Diaz-Balart, we appropriated more than $17 billion in new targeted infrastructure investments over the last two fiscal years.  The bipartisan budget agreement in 2018 allowed us to bolster funding for discretionary grants across all modes and provide billions more for transit, aviation, highway, and rail programs.

While these incremental investments are significant, they represent a “down payment” more than anything else.  We know there is much more work left to do, and we need another bipartisan budget agreement to escape sequestration and build on this progress.  Also, Congress must find a way to right-size the Highway Trust Fund and put our nation on a more sustainable fiscal path that provides certainty to states, localities, and other stakeholders. 

Infrastructure investments cannot wait.  Major projects—we’re talking airports, highways, ports, and yes, the Gateway project in New York and New Jersey—only grow more expensive when we needlessly delay necessary repairs and improvements.  In short, we have every reason to be mindful of the costs of not facing up to our infrastructure crisis.  When we should be building runways and laying new rail, we are struggling to fill potholes and repair aging bridges.

Now, let’s turn to the Department’s FY 2020 request.  Secretary Chao, you are requesting approximately $83.7 billion in total budgetary resources, a 4 percent reduction from last year’s enacted level. 

For programs funded through the Highway Trust Fund, your request remains largely consistent with FAST Act authorized levels.  On the discretionary side of the ledger, you seek a $5 billion reduction, or a cut of almost 20 percent.  While I’m pleased to see you have requested funding for BUILD and other grant programs—a positive change from prior requests—the brunt of these funding reductions would fall upon programs that advance public transit, rail, and other multi-modal projects that are critical to our nation’s transportation future. 

For example, you propose to cut Amtrak and force states to pick up the costs of national network service; you zero out the Federal-State Partnership rail grants; and your $1 billion in proposed reductions for transit grants would almost certainly result in construction delays for eligible projects. 

It’s also concerning that you propose cutting safety programs, including a $9 million reduction to FAA’s aviation safety office and a $35 million reduction to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s operations and research activities account.

Overall, this budget is a far cry from what is necessary to move our country forward, and it doesn’t reflect the rhetoric we hear from the Department about taking a “safety first” approach. 

Of course, budget hearings aren’t just about the numbers, they’re also about oversight.  We need to learn more about how the Department is executing grants and making use of the funding that this subcommittee provided on a bipartisan basis for the 2018 and 2019 fiscal years.

We also need to hear directly from you, Secretary Chao, about recent incidents involving the Boeing MAX 8 and the FAA’s certification and inspection process.  This subcommittee is closely following the ongoing investigations, and we’re prepared to work with you to address any identified shortcomings.  We need full transparency.

At the same time, I believe the Boeing incident touches on larger questions about whether DOT is fully prepared to oversee and regulate increasingly complex technologies in the “age of automation.” 

Whether it’s autonomous vehicles, ships, or aviation systems, it’s clear DOT must undertake a massive effort to recruit and retain staff who are qualified and knowledgeable about automation and human behavior.

These technologies hold enormous potential to increase efficiency and improve safety.  But as we’ve seen recently, a single accident can cause terrible loss of life and result in a crisis of confidence.  If the Department lacks the expertise to safely regulate these emerging technologies, the results will be catastrophic not only for consumers and passengers but also for the businesses and industries that drive innovation. 

Finally, I’d like to hear more about how DOT is working with states, localities, and other grantees to improve resiliency.  Each year, DOT awards tens of billions in competitive and formula grants.  Whether it’s increasingly severe flooding, hurricanes, or wildfires, we need to take an “all-hazards” approach and ensure our federal dollars support projects that can withstand future threats.

Secretary Chao, I look forward to your testimony today and working with you to ensure DOT has the resources it needs to carry out its mission. 

Now, I’d like to recognize the distinguished Ranking Member, Mr. Diaz-Balart of Florida, for his opening statement.

116th Congress