U.S. Senator Susan Collins released the following statement in response to the news that the Maine Department of Transportation has identified the first project to receive federal money distributed through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA). Senator Collins worked with a bipartisan group of senators to craft the legislation that became law earlier in the month.
Maine DOT has prioritized the improvements to the 24-mile stretch of the northbound I-295, between Brunswick and Gardiner, as the first project to use this funding.
"I am pleased to see the state distribute this money quickly. The purpose of the stimulus is to get the money into the economy quickly by, among other things, beginning work on important transportation infrastructure projects. This will help create and save the jobs of our skilled and dedicated workforce. It is vital that we get these projects underway as soon as possible, and I look forward to seeing more of these stimulus funded project announcements soon."
In addition, as Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Senator Collins, along with Chairman Joseph Lieberman (I-D CT) will participate in a hearing next week that will examine how the federal government will account for the billions of dollars expected to be spent over the next two years as a result of the economic stimulus package and help ensure that strong accountability measures are in place and that the spending is as transparent as possible.
Among those scheduled to testify at the hearing, which will be held on Thursday, March 5, is Peter Orszag, Director of the Office of Management and Budget.
Senator Collins said: "We have witnessed the collapse of the housing market, the unraveling of our nation's financial institutions, and the evaporation of trillions of dollars that were invested in the stock market and in people's retirement accounts. It is critical that we work to turn this economy around and create and save jobs, but do so with transparency and accountability. I opposed releasing the remaining TARP funds last month because the initial funds lacked the transparency and accountability that was needed to ensure that taxpayer dollars were spent wisely. I was appalled to learn that the financial institutions that benefited from the initial TARP funds were either unable or unwilling to publicly release information about how TARP dollars were spent. We cannot afford to make the same mistake with the economic stimulus package.
Senator Collins' committee's inquiry will focus on ensuring that appropriate measures are taken to prevent cost overruns as agencies enter into contracts to spend ARRA funds, that strict oversight of contractor performance occurs, that grant conditions are met, and that fraud is promptly prosecuted.
The Committee will also look at the challenges of presenting quick and accurate information about how the funds are being spent so that taxpayers may follow the process and determine if their money is being spent wisely and effectively.
The ARRA calls for a range of new and existing assets to help ensure the money is spent appropriately and efficiently. The bill provides extensive new funding for the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and the Inspectors General (IGs) in the federal agencies charged with distributing stimulus funds. The bill also creates a new Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, headed by a presidential appointee, to coordinate and conduct oversight of stimulus spending across-the-board and provide regular reports to Congress and the public.
Furthermore, a new federal website, Recovery.gov, will allow the public to track where all the money is going, including disbursements at the state and local level, for an unprecedented level of transparency.