Cutting Government Waste, Protecting Environment Go Hand in Hand

A Government Accountability Office (GAO) report (PDF) on government redundancy released this week has strong words for our current transportation policy. According to the authors, “The Federal Approach to Surface Transportation Is Fragmented, Lacks Clear Goals, and Is Not Accountable for Results.”

Well, I’d have to agree. It’s high time we overhauled a 1950s policy that’s been updated on an ad hoc basis, with overlapping programs piled up on top of each other. A more streamlined, focused transportation policy is good for taxpayers and the environment.

We hear a lot about “streamlining" on the Hill these days. Sometimes it’s a code word for eliminating important regulatory safeguards. On the other hand, sometimes it can work to the advantage of all taxpayers.

Eliminating redundancies in our transportation program will make it easier to spot boondoggles and Bridges to Nowhere – and squash them for good. (Some of these projects are like the undead -- believe it or not, Alaska’s infamous Bridge to Nowhere is STILL alive!).

And setting clear, national goals for transportation projects -- which should include big-picture issues like environmental quality and economic benefits as well as better mobility -- will help direct taxpayer money to the projects that produce the best results.
President Obama’s new transportation bill tackles these issues head on. For example, it proposes consolidating 55 separate highway programs into 5 core programs. This would eliminate a lot of wasteful overlap, and also allow for greater transparency. With fewer programs, there are fewer nooks and crannies to slip wasteful earmarks into -- another way to make sure our taxpayer dollars are being wisely spent.

The new bill would continue support for the innovative Transportation Investments Generating Economic Recover or TIGER program, a competitive grant program that awards money to transportation projects that create jobs, connect communities and protect the environment – one of the rare transportation programs that spurs competition and considers the broader impacts that a good transportation project can and should have. Michael Grunwald wrote a nice piece in Time about the similar Obama proposals to increase virtuous competition for scarce federal government investment monies.

By eliminating waste and adding accountability, the new transportation bill could and should address many of the concerns raised by the GAO report and by taxpayers.