Chairman Rockefeller Remarks on Hearing to Review the Department of Transportation Fiscal Year 2011 Budget

March 4, 2010

JDR Head ShotWASHINGTON, D.C.—We are meeting today to review the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) $79 billion request for FY 2011.

Transportation is our country’s lifeblood. It facilitates every aspect of our economy, creates jobs and drives new growth here at home, while connecting even our smallest communities to a global marketplace.

Yet unfortunately, our world-class transportation system is aging and has failed to keep pace with the needs of our national economy and growing population.

And while everyone understands we have to put more money into our transportation system, we need to have national goals and clear objectives to guide and justify this vital increase in funding.

That is why Senator Lautenberg and I introduced the Federal Surface Transportation Policy and Planning Act of 2009.

This important legislation will establish goals for federal surface transportation programs – so that the American taxpayers are confident that their tax dollars are going to support transportation projects that improve safety, combat congestion, promote energy independence, address climate change, and, most importantly, grow our economy.

I believe the DOT’s budget proposal is an important first step that still recognizes the call for serious cost controls. 

And I am pleased that this proposal makes sure our agencies have the resources they need to bring safety center stage.

Secretary LaHood and the DOT have been on the forefront of issues like distracted driving and it is great to see that he is proposing $50 million for a new Distracted Driver Prevention Program.

I have proposed my own bill to combat distracted driving because we have already seen too many lives needlessly cut short.

This week we heard important testimony about NHTSA’s deficiencies in enforcing vehicle safety regulations. Therefore, there must be an increase in NHTSA’s funding to hire more vehicle safety engineers to investigate vehicle defects. I know the Administration has proposed a slight increase for more personnel, but that proposal is simply not enough to address the problems that this Committee has uncovered with vehicle safety.

I look forward to continuing our work with the DOT to bring a revived and very proactive commitment to safety and shared responsibility to our roads – and to ensure the resources are there for other agencies to take a similar focus on safety as well.

For example, the FAA is committed to addressing pilot fatigue and training – a problem so terribly highlighted by Colgan Flight 3407’s tragic accident just over a year ago.

This budget also proposes $1.1 billion to jumpstart the modernization of our air traffic control system, vastly increasing the safety of the air transportation system, while reducing congestion and delays, and addressing environmental concerns.

$1 billion has been proposed for high-speed and intercity passenger rail which continues to be a priority for this Committee and the Administration.

And I am encouraged to see the DOT’s commitment to finally addressing the deplorable conditions at the Merchant Marine Academy by providing $31 million for the Capital Improvement Program.

I support your effort to restore the Academy to the premier educational institution that we all know it should be and that the students deserve.

I also want to take this opportunity to say that I know we sometimes take it for granted that the engineers at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) never stop investigating the safety of our vehicles.

This budget funds the agency’s vehicle safety program. And as we explored in this week’s hearing of the Toyota recall, NHTSA’s success is fundamental to our public safety. We need to make sure it has the tools and resources it needs to do the job we all expect.

I also look forward to learning more about the DOT’s proposed Infrastructure Fund to make federal investments in transportation projects of national or regional economic importance and how that funding mechanism could incorporate the ideas I’ve presented on measuring our transportation system’s performance.

Finally, as we begin to reauthorize the federal surface transportation programs, we need to continue to push for a long-term extension so that we have the time to develop a robust reauthorization bill that anticipates our nation’s future needs while also avoiding another disastrous interruption of the DOT’s crucial safety mission and ability to provide critical dollars to support state highway projects and good-paying jobs. 

Now, I know the DOT faces many important challenges ahead, even as it works to provide the safest transportation system in the world and meet the needs of the American people. 

But I am absolutely confident that—given proper resources and clear direction—you can meet these challenges and succeed.

I assure you, this Committee will be tracking DOT’s performance closely and we are ready to work with you.

Thank you for appearing here today, Deputy Secretary Porcari; I look forward to your testimony.