Click here to watch Ranking Member Capito’s opening remarks from the committee hearing.

– Today, the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee held a hearing on the nomination of Shailen Bhatt to be administrator of the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA).

Below is the opening statement of Ranking Member Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), as prepared for delivery.

“Congratulations on your nomination to serve as administrator of the Federal Highway Administration, FHWA. I appreciate the frank conversation that we had yesterday in my office, and thanks for spending so much time with me.

“As we discussed, for almost two years we have been operating without a Senate-confirmed administrator at FHWA and it has been two years for the agency, much too long.

“The president signed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, IIJA, into law almost one year ago…it was cold that day, remember that?

“The foundation of the IIJA was our bipartisan Surface Transportation Reauthorization Act of 2021.

“The IIJA included unprecedented funding to address the needs of our nation’s road and bridge infrastructure. It stood up a number of new programs and included significant project delivery provisions, such as environmental review and permitting reforms for highway and bridge projects.

“This legislation proved that Congress can come together on pressing issues facing our nation and we know that we can find bipartisan solutions that deliver results for the American people.

“The staff at FHWA has been working hard to implement the IIJA, but there is still a lot of work to be done in order to ensure that funding gets out the door, shovel-ready and worthy projects move forward, and the law is implemented as Congress intended it. 

“As we mentioned yesterday, time is money, and in this inflationary time it has become, I think, much more of a challenge with supply chain issues as well.

“I am troubled and concerned by some of the implementation actions that the FHWA has taken in the absence of a Senate-confirmed administrator.

“While we all expected FHWA would prioritize the [sections] of the IIJA that advance the priorities of the Biden administration, but I do have a great deal of concern when it appears the agency is outright neglecting to implement certain provisions of the bill, mainly the project delivery actions.

“I submitted questions for the record regarding implementation of the project delivery sections as a follow up to our March meeting with Secretary Buttigieg on IIJA implementation, but we have still not received any responses from DOT.

“Simple questions like ‘what modal administration is overseeing implementation of each section of the law?’ shouldn’t be a hard question to answer.

“Implementation deadlines should be readily available for the department to provide.

“With these easy questions unanswered it begs the question: is the department not actively planning implementation of certain sections of the law?

“This question is even more pressing as FHWA took it a step further by prioritizing the implementation of policies that were purposely left out of the law.

“This was the subject of our hearing for me with Secretary Buttigieg.

“We have seen this carried through in numerous guidance documents beginning with the December 16 FHWA memorandum to staff entitled ‘Policy on Using the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law Resources to Build a Better America,’ and then in programmatic guidance documents [for] the National Highway Performance Program (NHPP), the Surface Transportation Block Grant Program (STBGP), and the PROTECT program, just to name a few.

“Among those other items these guidance documents encourage recipients of highway formulas to ‘flex’ funding into transit investments. It discourage states from moving forward with projects that add highway capacity. It imposes a one-size-fits-all approach by discouraging transferring program funds to where they are needed most, which was a flexibility that was intentionally built into the law to ensure each state’s unique needs are met. 

“You know as a former state administrator in two different states, state flexibility is crucial to ensure that our transportation network can successfully meet the needs of all of our constituents. 

“I invite you and anyone from the department, we talked about this, to travel to my home state so you can fully understand that some policies are not going to solve our transportation problems that we have in the state, and in the mountains, of West Virginia. 

“While I have been told repeatedly that these are ‘just guidance documents,’ my frustration is building when I consider the time that limited staff at the department and FHWA are devoting to such documents instead of implementing the law in its entirety.

“In July, the West Virginia Department of Transportation received a letter encouraging them not to transfer from one program to another, three months after the agency had approved the transfer.

“So, let me reiterate the last part: the transfer already occurred under an approval three months before, and then they were notified three months afterward that that behavior is to be discouraged.

“I am also hearing about a lack of responsiveness from FHWA and inconsistency in responses from division offices across the country, another issue that we talked about in my office.

“Recipients of funding are looking for consistent direction from FHWA that adheres to the law.

“If this does not happen, we run the risk of this investment not being fully utilized and the goals of the legislation not being fully realized as inflation adds urgency to maximizing this historic investment.

“It is time that the FHWA stops spending limited staff resources on what the political appointees’ wish list is and instead focuses those resources on implementing what is actually in the law, the entire law, that the Congress negotiated and passed with strong bipartisan support, and that the president signed.

“I am very interested to hear if and how you plan to turn this situation around, and to understand what your priorities would be if confirmed.

“Will things look different than they do now or will it be more of the same?

“This is a pivotal moment. FHWA has the opportunity to provide the states and other funding recipients with the guidance and support necessary to build a modern transportation network that works for all Americans, or the agency can serve as a roadblock.

“I am hopeful that if confirmed you will lead FHWA in upholding the law, that your priorities as administrator will recognize that transportation needs throughout our nation are different in every state, and that you will not push a one-size-fits-all approach.

“Chairman Carper, I yield back.”

# # #