H.R. 2569, "To reauthorize surface transportation research, development, and technology transfer activities, and for other purposes," approved, as amended, by voice vote.
REPUBLICANS VOICE NUMEROUS CONCERNS OVER R&D TITLE IN HIGHWAY BILL
Washington, D.C. – July 15, 2009 – Today in a markup of the Subcommittee on Technology and Innovation, Republican members voiced numerous concerns over the cost and priorities of H.R. 2569, legislation reauthorizing research and development (R&D) activities at the Department of Transportation (DOT).
“With record deficits and a mountain of debt looming in the background and threatening both short- and long-term economic stability, it is clear we need to practice some fiscal restraint,” said Subcommittee Ranking Member Adrian Smith (R-NE). “Unfortunately, on most issues in Congress—and with the highway bill in particular—the eagerness to spend taxpayers’ money trumps any concerns over balancing the Nation’s checkbook.”
Smith raised concerns with an undefined term used throughout the R&D title, promoting “community livability.” During the markup Smith sought a definition of the term and was informed by the Chair of the intentional “elasticity” of the term so as to be interpreted differently depending on whether one refers to a rural or urban landscape. Citing that Administration officials have said that “livability” involves coercing people out of their cars, Smith took exception to the ambiguity of the term, saying, “The more leeway we give agencies to define these terms, the more concerned I am.”
Smith continued, “I think we can safely assume most Americans wouldn’t consider the government forcing them out of their vehicles as something which improves their ‘livability.’ Accordingly, I want to ensure the DOT R&D portfolio is aimed at positively impacting Americans’ lifestyles, not limiting basic freedoms to live, work, and commute as they please.”
Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA) offered an amendment, agreed to by voice vote, to better quantify the impact of earmarking on addressing transportation R&D needs at DOT. Specifically, it requires the DOT strategic plan for R&D to include “a description of the degree to which current research, development, and technology transfer activities are competitive and merit-reviewed, and whether and how increasing the proportion of competitive, merit reviewed activities might further the objectives of the plan.”
In an attempt to balance the R&D to be performed, Ranking Member Smith offered an amendment that would ensure that R&D at the DOT Office of Climate Change and Environment be conducted “in a manner that minimizes economic costs and other burdens on consumers.” The amendment would require DOT to assess the social, economic, and environmental tradeoffs associated with efforts such as land use restrictions, transportation pricing schemes, and congestion reduction strategies. The amendment was defeated in a roll call vote.
Several other Republican amendments were offered and withdrawn with the Chairman’s assurance that issues of concern will be addressed as the bill moves to an expected full Committee markup. Rep. Judy Biggert (R-IL) offered one such amendment to convert a program creating at least 10 new federally funded centers to a competitively awarded grant program for universities to perform green transportation R&D.
Smith also offered and withdrew two amendments. One amendment attempted to limit the funding for the DOT Office of Climate Change and Environment to $2 million. Smith noted that this “allows for a significant increase while still limiting growth in the size of the office.” While the amendment would not necessarily limit DOT-wide climate research, it is intended to protect against a shift away from important and established areas of study—such as research on safety and advanced materials.
Smith’s other amendment attempted to address duplicative research programs between this bill and a pavement research deployment and education program that already exists, as created by SAFETEA-LU in 2005. Republicans agreed to withdraw these amendments and work with the majority on areas of concern as the bill moves forward.