Feds Back Dunnam Against TxDOT

Agency decision to spend stimulus money could be reversed

Congressman Oberstar: Yes, the law applies to TxDOT, too.
Congressman Oberstar: Yes, the law applies to TxDOT, too.

So you remember that little spat Waco Rep. Jim Dunnam, chair of the committee overseeing Texas’ portion of the federal stimulus money, had with the Texas Department of Transportation on Monday? Well, now he has the feds backing him up and telling TxDOT they’d better obey the law.

Dunnam blew up in his House Select Committee on Federal Economic Stabilization Funding meeting when TxDOT officials told him they had already committed $500 million in stimulus money to maintenance projects – without getting any input from the Lege and, as TxDOT executive director Amadeo Saenz openly admitted, without considering and giving priority to “economically distressed areas” of the state in deciding which projects to fund, which the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 requires. The Texas Transportation Commission, which oversees TxDOT, has a vote scheduled tomorrow morning to commit even more stimulus cash, possibly again without factoring in economically distressed areas.

“We are subject to being charged back this money if y'all don't spend it in compliance with statute," warned an angry Dunnam Monday.

After the meeting, TxDOT further enraged Dunnam when department spokesman Chris Lippincott told reporters, “I'm not sure Rep. Dunnam understands what the law says. Federal law can be complicated."

About two hours ago, Dunnam got the chance to smack TxDOT back: He received a letter from Congressman James L. Oberstar, D-Minnesota and chair of the federal Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, which read:

The Recovery Act specifically requires that, in selecting projects within the Federal Highway Administration, Highway Infrastructure Investment program to be carried out with funds apportioned under the Recovery Act, States give priority to projects that are located in economically distressed areas … .

To obligate Federal-aid Highway funds made available under the Recovery Act, the Federal Highway Administration must approve the specific projects recommended by the Texas Department of Transportation. The Federal Highway Administration is statutorily required to ensure that all requirements of the Recovery Act, including giving priority to economically distressed areas, are satisfied.

Oh, snap! It’s going to be fun watching TxDOT try to talk their way out of this one.

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