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Member-Designated Transportation and Infrastructure Projects Database Initiative

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

* Mr. OBERSTAR. Madam Speaker, I rise today to announce a new initiative to promote transparency and accountability with regard to Member-designated projects within the jurisdiction of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure: a searchable database of all Member-designated projects included in Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure bills.

* On the first day of the new Democratic majority of the 110th Congress, under the leadership of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the House of Representatives adopted Rules to institute specific requirements with regard to Member-designated projects: congressional earmarks, limited tax benefits, and limited tariff benefits. See clause 9(e), 9(f), and 9(g) of rule XXI of the Rules of the House of Representatives of the 111th Congress. For each Member-designated project, a Member of Congress must certify that neither the Member nor his or her spouse has a financial interest in the project. See clause 17 of rule XXIII. In addition, each committee report on a bill must identify any congressional earmarks included in the bill. These transparency and accountability requirements also apply to manager's amendments and Conference Reports. As Chairman of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, I have vigorously enforced these rules.

* In addition, in the interests of full disclosure, transparency, and accountability, the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, at my direction, requires Members of Congress to comply with all of the requirements of clause 9 of rule XXI and clause 17 of rule XXIII, even if the earmark rules do not apply, if the Member of Congress requests that the Committee take legislative action targeted to a specific State, locality, or Congressional district. For instance, the Committee requires Members to certify requests for corrections to descriptions of previously designated projects, such as corrections to high-priority projects that were included in the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users--Technical Corrections Act of 2008 (P.L. 110-244), even though the corrections do not involve any new funding. See Committee Print 110-175. The Committee also requires Members to certify requests for General Services Administration, GSA, Capital Investment and Leasing Program Resolutions, GSA Public Building Project Survey Resolutions, and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Survey Resolutions, even though congressional earmark rules do not apply to these Committee actions.

* In the 111th Congress, we have built upon these efforts. Member-designated projects can play an important role in certain programs, such as the Federal-aid highway program. They provide constituents with a chance to weigh in directly with their elected officials on their community priorities, and allow Members an opportunity to advocate for surface transportation and mobility improvements that may be overlooked by a State Department of Transportation. Yet, it is also necessary to use a commonsense approach to dealing with projects that are complete or no longer viable. Earlier this week, on July 27, 2010, the House passed, by a vote of 394-23, H.R. 5730, the ``Surface Transportation Earmark Rescission, Savings, and Accountability Act'', introduced by the gentlewoman from Colorado, Ms. Markey, to clear the books of projects that will not go forward and save taxpayer money. The bill eliminates a total of $713 million in unobligated funding for 309 Member-designated projects contained in four previous surface transportation acts enacted over the past two decades. Similarly, during consideration of H.R. 4715, the ``Clean Estuaries Act of 2010'', in the House in April of this year, I offered an amendment, which the House adopted, to strike the statutory earmarks included in the National Estuary Program under current law.

* In addition, the Committee has adopted a series of Member-designated project reform principles to further promote transparency and accountability. The Committee requires Members of Congress to:

* Provide specific information on the type, location, total cost, percentage of total cost of the project, that the request would finance, and benefits of the project;

* Provide at least one letter of support for the project from state or local government agencies; certify that neither the Member nor his or her spouse has any financial interest in a project requested; and

* Post requests for projects on the Member's website.

* Today, the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure takes another step in its continuing effort to provide unparalleled transparency and accountability of Member-designated projects. We launch a searchable database of all Member-designated projects included in Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure bills in the 110th and 111th Congresses.

* The Member-designated projects database, located on the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure website, includes the ability to search Member-designated projects by Member of Congress, State, Congressional district, bill, bill title, and amount. Each Member-designated project includes an electronic copy of the individual ``no financial interest'' certification of the Member of Congress and, beginning with H.R. 5892, the ``Water Resources Development Act of 2010'', a copy of a letter from the state or local government expressing support for the project. Finally, the Committee makes copies of all Member-designated project requests available in the Committee office.

* As Chairman, I am deeply committed to transparency and accountability in all of the activities of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. I look forward to working with public interest groups to endeavor to find even more ways to shine a light on the actions of our Committee.

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