On June 29th, the Government Accountability Office, a Congressional watchdog monitoring performance and efficiency of government programs, published a report evaluating transportation spending in the 2009 American Reinvestment and Recovery Act. The report, Recovery Act: Funding Used for Transportation Infrastructure Projects, but Some Requirements Proved Challenging, found that the transportation investment program generated tens of thousands of good jobs while helping states repair and build critical infrastructure, with no reports of abuse or waste.
The GAO measures job creation in Full-Time Equivalents, or FTEs, with one FTE being equal to a year of full-time work for one person. The report found that transportation spending in the Recovery Act supported between 31,000 and 65,000 FTEs every quarter from October 2009 to March 2011. Most of these jobs have been created in the construction industry, which was particularly hard-hit by the recession. However, these are only the jobs created directly through transportation spending; according to the GAO the number of jobs created by companies supplying transportation projects (indirect jobs) and the number of jobs created by new spending on transportation projects in local communities (induced jobs) are likely to be quite significant.
Much of our transportation infrastructure across the country has been in a state of neglect for years or even decades awaiting funding for repairs. The Recovery Act allowed states to reduce or even clear these maintenance backlogs, and invest in new infrastructure to meet their citizens' needs. California, for example, was able to fund its entire backlog of shovel-ready projects and has begun work on new construction.
The GAO report also identified other benefits accruing from transportation funding in the Recovery Act. Federal, state, and local officials report improved communication and planning between agencies and layers of government, increasing efficiency and coordination. Streamlined application and permitting processes allowed projects to be built faster, which can provide significant savings to the taxpayer. Many agencies used federal incentives to pioneer innovative cooperating frameworks to plan, build, and operate projects that serve multiple different modes of transportation to provide more options to travelers.
Finally, the GAO has been monitoring the use of transportation spending, and has uncovered no major instances of abuse nor lax oversight. The report does caution that the long-term effects of transportation spending are still unclear so early on, with many projects expected to last for five decades or more. The GAO will continue to monitor these programs, working with federal, state, and local auditors to measure the future benefits of these transportation investments and monitor that Recovery Act funds are spent properly.