Congressman Bob Gibbs Opening Remarks from House-Senate Conference Meeting on WRRDA
(Remarks as Prepared)
I am very pleased that we are here today to begin the conference committee process for the next Water Resources Development Act. Reaching an agreement between both chambers of Congress is vitally important to our nation’s economy and our global economic competitiveness for years to come.
Our nation’s ports and vast inland waterway system provide American farmers and manufacturers with a unique competitive advantage. But without timely and adequate investment, that advantage will be lost. In fact, we have already seen nations like China and Brazil begin to invest in their own waterborne transportation systems. Without reforms to the project delivery process and funding for strategic infrastructure, America’s competitiveness will decline.
WRRDA is a real jobs bill – not only temporary construction jobs, but also permanent careers generated by increased efficiencies for our businesses that rely on properly maintained ports and inland waterways. I’m proud of what the House was able to accomplish in its version of the bill, and I think that the final vote tally of 417 to 3 is evidence of bi-partisan common sense policies and reforms.
This bill changes the way the Army Corps of Engineers does business. While it once took the Corps three to five years to complete a study, it has become normal for this process to take 10 to 15 years. WRRDA cuts the red tape, streamlines reviews, and accelerates the lengthy process, saving us precious time and money and allowing infrastructure improvements to move forward in a 3 year timeline and for less than $3 million. It is appropriate that we address the cost portion of the equation as we do in this legislation, since time is money.
The House-passed WRRDA is the most-fiscally responsible version ever passed. For the first time, there are no earmarks and new project authorizations are more-than offset by deauthorizing old and unneeded projects still on the books. While earmarks are now a thing of the past for WRRDA, it is important that Congress retains its constitutional authority in determining infrastructure policy and priorities. The House bill contains common sense solutions to ensure that Congress maintains its responsibility without resorting to pork barrel politics.
The House bill is also focused on getting the federal government out of the way. Many times, states and local interests are willing to use their own funds to move projects forward, but cannot do so because of current law. WRRDA ensures that communities using their own funds to get projects done quicker, while still maintaining federal oversight through the Army Corps.
Public-Private Partnerships are another key focus. Due to our current fiscal constraints, we should be doing everything possible to encourage appropriate private involvement in infrastructure projects. WRRDA includes the first-ever pilot program for public private partnerships in water infrastructure, which will help make necessary repairs and replacements without burdening the taxpayers.
I’m pleased that the House and Senate have each acknowledged that a new WRRDA is long-overdue and a positive step forward for our economy. I look forward to working with my colleagues here today to reach a final deal while retaining the important reforms to water infrastructure policy.