President Obama rallied the troops today at two agencies that often get second-billing in Washington.
This morning, he stopped by the Transportation Department to talk about their role in the economic stimulus package. The $787 billion plan includes $48 billion for highway and other infrastructure projects, though some wanted a far bigger slice for public works projects, arguing that they would quickly pump up the economy.
Flanked by Vice President Biden and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, Obama repeated the claim that the stimulus package represents the biggest investment in infrastructure since the interstate highway system in the 1950s.
The infrastructure spending will create or save 400,000 jobs fixing crumbling roads, bridges, and schools; repairing dams and levees; and improving mass transit.
Obama announced that $28 billion for highways is being released to state and local transportation departments, and the first contract will soon be awarded for road surfacing in Maryland.
"The American public is grateful to public servants like you -- men and women whose work isn't always recognized, but whose jobs are critical to our nation's safety, security, and prosperity," Obama told the Transportation employees. "You have never been more important than you are right now." (Click here for Biden and Obama's full remarks.)
The White House released a "fact sheet" saying that the highway spending will save or create 150,000 jobs by the end of next year. (It is below.) The White House said that state highway departments have already identified more than 100 transportation projects, totaling more than $750 million, where construction can start within the month.
States have 120 days to decide on specific projects, or risk losing some money.
According to the White House, Massachusetts will get $438 million, Connecticut $302 million, Maine $131 million, New Hampshire $129 million, Rhode Island $137 million, and Vermont $126 million.
"The jobs that we're creating are good jobs that pay more than average; jobs grinding asphalt and paving roads, filling potholes, making street signs, repairing stop lights, replacing guardrails," Obama said.
This afternoon, the president went to the Interior Department, which is celebrating its 160th anniversary, but which is trying to recover from seamy allegations of corruption, sex, and drugs involving agency officials and lobbyists for the oil and gas industries.
Obama told cheering Interior employees that their mission remains steadfast: to "defend the natural bounty of this country" and to further the welfare of Americans.
"You have become the Department of America," he said.
Obama said with so much of the nation's resources in public lands managed by the agency, it will play a key role in the clean energy initiatives he is pushing.
"Your mission is more important than ever before," he said.
Obama acknowledged what he called the prior "lapses," but praised Interior Secretary Ken Salazar for restoring integrity and accountability.
He also announced that he has put on hold a rule the Bush administration put in place in its waning days that allows federal agencies to decide themselves whether their actions would harm endangered species. Environmentalists want to restore a rule that requires agencies to get independent experts to weigh in on whether projects such as dams and power plants would endanger the animals.
Senator John F. Kerry of Massachusetts praised Obama's action.
“America’s wildlife and habitats are already facing looming natural threats without exacerbating the problem by removing protections against manmade threats,” Kerry, who his office said is pushing to protect polar bears, said in a statement. “With this action, President Obama has made it clear that the irresponsible, last-ditch policy changes of the Bush Administration will not stand.”
(Obama's full remarks at Interior are also below.)
The fact sheet:
The American Reinvestment and Recovery Act is expected to create or save 3.5 million jobs by the end of next year. Some of these jobs will come from direct spending by the Federal government to improve the nation’s roads, bridges, schools, and other parts of our national infrastructure.
One such investment calls for spending $28 billion on highway construction. This money will be allocated to states across the nation, helping to partly offset the job losses that have occurred throughout the country.
Using the same economic model that predicted the overall job growth, we find that this particular investment will lead to 150,000 jobs saved or created by the end of 2010.
It is also worth noting that jobs in highway construction tend to pay better than average. The typical, or median hourly wage for all jobs in the economy was $15.10 in 2007 according to the most recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But for workers in the highway industry, the typical hourly wage was $18.31, a premium of over $3 per hour over the economy-wide median wage.
Looking more closely at different types of jobs within the industry helps to explain the difference. The median wage of blue collar, or production workers—folks who do jobs like welding and mixing—comes to about $16 per hour in highway construction compared to about $13.50 in the overall economy.
There are two sources by which these jobs come about. First, there is the direct impact of building new roads and fixing old ones, leading to employment for persons who, in the absence of this investment, would be out of work. This effect is responsible for just under two-thirds of the jobs, about 95,000.
The second effect is an indirect one. It refers to the economic activity generated when these new workers spend more than they would have otherwise. For example, someone who gets a job fixing a road through the Recovery Act might buy more groceries or more apparel, and this leads to more activity by grocers and retailers. This effect explains about 55,000 of these jobs.
Finally, note that we say these 150,000 jobs would be “saved or created.” In some cases, current employees on highway crews or in other sectors where these workers spend money will avoid layoffs due to these investments. Had the Recovery Act not passed, they would have become unemployed. Other jobs will be newly created providing a new job slot that did not exist before.
Obama at Transportation:
THE VICE PRESIDENT: You need not stand for me. Thank you, thank you. Thank you very much. Mr. Secretary, thank you very much. And we're counting on you; we're counting on all of you in a way I don't think we've ever looked to the department before. We're counting on you. It's that simple, it's that straightforward. And I want to thank all of you in the Department of Transportation for your dedication and for the long hours you help -- you put in to make this announcement possible -- but the long hours you're going to be putting in.
Mr. President, when you signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act into law, you made it absolutely clear that the American people could not wait -- could not wait for us to get started, and that they had a duty -- we had, you have -- the Department of Transportation, all of the federal government -- a duty and a responsibility to put to work the resources in the economic recovery package at a record speed and with record transparency.
Now, Mr. President, just two weeks after signing that legislation, we're about to start the biggest investment on our nation's road, bridges, highways and tunnels since we built the Interstate Highway System over 50 years ago. It's a big deal. The work is beginning now, with hundreds more projects getting underway in the next few months. Some project will start this month, some won't get going until the summer. We're going to do everything we can to get them moving as quickly as possible. But Americans didn't get in this mess overnight. And unfortunately, unfortunately, it's going to take some time for us to get out of this.
Mr. President, you also made it clear that we have an obligation to the taxpayers of this nation to make sure their money is being used wisely, to make it accountable and transparent. Folks, we're going to ask of you a sense of diligence and transparency and responsibility as has not been asked before, because we've never made this kind of investment before. This is a big deal. Never before in the history of this country have the people been more able to see with such complete transparency how we're going to put their money to work, not just in this agency but particularly here.
Our web site, recovery.gov, is an unprecedented resource for the people to see how their money is being spent. And more than ever, more than ever, people can be our eyes and our ears. They can let us know what's happening, and maybe, just as importantly, what isn't happening in their communities.
I've always believed that the toughest moments present the biggest opportunities, and clearly, the President of the United States feels that way, as well. With this recovery package, we'll be creating jobs, saving jobs, and putting money in people's pockets. That's what this is about -- getting America moving again. And with the resources being allocated today, we won't only rebuild the roads and highways and bridges, we're going to rebuild this nation. This is the first step in rebuilding America.
And the man who is the chief architect of that rebuilding project I'd like to introduce to you now. Ladies and gentleman, your President and mine, the President of the United States of America, Barack Obama. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Thank you, DOT. (Applause.) Thank you very much. Please, have a seat. Thank you. Vice President Biden, Secretary LaHood, our co-chairs of the TIGER team, Lana Hurdle and Joel Szabat. Thank you all for the extraordinary work that you guys are doing each and every day.
I want to begin with some plain talk: The economy's performance in the last quarter of 2008 was the worst in over 25 years. And, frankly, the first quarter of this year holds out little promise for better returns.
From Wall Street to Main Street to kitchen tables all across America, our economic challenge is clear. And now it is up to us to meet it.
One of the challenges is to jumpstart lending, so businesses and families can finance the purchases of everything from inventory and payroll to a home, a car, or a college education. We have to jumpstart the credit markets and get private lending going again. No matter how good of a job we do here, that's going to be critical. And that's why the Treasury and the Federal Reserve are launching today the Consumer and Business Lending Initiative, which, when fully implemented, will generate up to a trillion dollars of new lending for the American people. And this will help unlock our frozen credit markets, which is absolutely essential for economic recovery.
But we also know that there cannot be a sustained recovery unless and until we put Americans back to work and put money in their pockets.
Two weeks ago, I signed into law the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the most sweeping economic recovery plan in history. And already, its impact is being felt across this nation. Hardworking families can now worry a little less about next month's bills because of the tax cut they'll soon find in the mail. Renewable energy companies that were once downsizing are now finding ways to expand. And transportation projects that were once on hold are now starting up again -- as part of the largest new investment in America's infrastructure since President Eisenhower built the Interstate Highway System.
Of the 3.5 million jobs that will be created and saved over the next two years as a result of this recovery plan, 400,000 will be jobs rebuilding our crumbling roads, bridges, and schools, repairing our faulty levees and dams, connecting nearly every American to broadband, and upgrading the buses and trains that commuters take every day. Many of these projects will be coordinated by Secretary LaHood and all of you at the Department of Transportation. And I want you to know that the American public is grateful to public servants like you -- men and women whose work isn't always recognized, but whose jobs are critical to our nation's safety, security, and prosperity. You have never been more important than you are right now, and for that we are all grateful. (Applause.)
Now, in the coming days and weeks, my administration will be announcing more details about the kinds of transportation projects that will be launched as part of the recovery plan. But today, I want to speak about an investment we are making in one part of our infrastructure. Through the Recovery Act, we will be investing $28 billion in our highways, money that every one of our 50 states can start using immediately to put people back to work. It's an investment being made at an unprecedented pace, thanks in large part to Joe Biden, who's leading the effort to get the money out the door quickly. Because of Joe, and because of all the governors and mayors, county and city officials who are helping implement this plan, I can say that 14 days after I signed our Recovery Act into law, we are seeing shovels hit the ground.
As Secretary LaHood noted, the first contract will be awarded to American Infrastructure, a family business in Pennsylvania that will be resurfacing a road in Maryland. More than 100 other people will begin receiving funds today, as well. Over the next few weeks, we will launch more than 200 construction projects across this country, fueling growth in an industry that's been hard hit by our economic crisis.
Altogether, this investment in highways will create or save 150,000 jobs by the end of next year, most of them in the private sector. (Applause.) And just to give you a sense of perspective, that's more jobs being created or saved in one year than GM, Ford, and Chrysler have lost in manufacturing over the past three years -- combined. The job -- the jobs that we're creating are good jobs that pay more than average; jobs grinding asphalt and paving roads, filling potholes, making street signs, repairing stop lights, replacing guard rails.
But what makes this investment so important is not simply that we will jumpstart job creation, or reduce the congestion that costs us nearly $80 billion a year, or rebuild the aging roads that cost drivers billions more a year in upkeep. What makes it so important is that by investing in roads that have earned a grade of D- by America's leading civil engineers -- roads that should have been rebuilt long ago -- we can save some 14,000 men and women who lose their lives each year due to bad roads and driving conditions. Like a broken levee or a bridge with a shaky foundation, poor roads are a public hazard -- and we have a responsibility to fix them.
Now, we have another responsibility. Having inherited a trillion-dollar deficit that we're working to cut in half, we also need to ensure that tax dollars aren't wasted on projects that don't deliver results. And that's why, as part of his duty, Joe will keep an eye on how precious tax dollars are being spent. To you, he's Mr. Vice President, but around the White House, we call him the Sheriff -- (laughter) -- because if you're misusing taxpayer money, you'll have to answer to him.
And to help him, I've appointed a proven and aggressive Inspector General to root out waste and fraud. And I'm also deputizing every single American to visit a new website called recovery.gov so you can see where your tax dollars are going and hold us accountable for results.
We're also making it easier for Americans to see what projects are being funded with their money as part of our recovery. So in the weeks to come, the signs denoting these projects are going to bear the new emblem of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. That's it right there. Transportation projects will be stamped with another emblem, as well. These emblems are symbols of our commitment to you, the American people -- a commitment to investing your tax dollars wisely, to put Americans to work doing the work that needs to be done. So when you see them on projects that your tax dollars made possible, let it be a reminder that our government -- your government -- is doing its part to put the economy back on the road of recovery.
And so, in the days and years ahead, as you're driving on new roads or roads that are newly paved, I hope it will give you some measure of satisfaction to know that it was all done by putting your fellow citizens to work. I hope it will give you a sense of pride to know that even as we pursued our economic recovery, we renewed our American landscape.
Throughout our history, there have been times when a generation of Americans seized the chance to remake the face of this nation. It's what we did in the midst of civil war by connecting our coasts with a transcontinental railroad. It's what we did in the midst of depression by putting up a golden bridge in San Francisco, and electrifying rural America, and completing a great dam in the Southwest. It's what we're doing once more -- by building a 21st century infrastructure that will make America's economy stronger and America's people safer.
That's the reason we're here today. That's the purpose of our recovery plan. That's the cause of my presidency, and I need it to be your cause, as well. Each and every one of you have a role to play. (Applause.)
There are those out there who say this can't be done -- it can't be done efficiently, it can't be done effectively. We've gone through a lot of years where we were told what government cannot do. Government can't do anything by itself, we've got to have the private sector involved. But there are critical things the government can do -- right here at the Department of Transportation. (Applause.)
Each and every one of you have a critical role to play. And if you do your work, if you do your job as well as you can do, if you feel as inspired as I do about the work that lies ahead, I'm absolutely confident that we're going to look back on this time and say to ourselves this was a moment where we really made a difference. What an extraordinary opportunity that is. I hope all of you seize it.
Thank you, everybody. God bless you.
Obama at Interior:
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. Please, have a seat. Thank you, Ken -- thank you, Mr. Secretary. It is my honor to join you and the hardworking public servants here at the Department of the Interior as we mark a milestone in the distinguished history of this department.
As Ken mentioned, 160 years ago today, with the tally of a contentious vote, amidst growing tensions between North and South, as our nation expanded westward, a deeply divided Senate passed the bill that created the Department of the Interior.
The department was born less of a singular purpose than of a multitude of needs; it was founded to serve a growing nation whose roles and responsibilities were growing, as well. The department even earned a nickname: "The Department of Everything Else." (Laughter.)
Yet, throughout our history, as Interior has performed a set of ever-changing and often unrelated duties, an overarching mission has emerged: to defend the natural bounty of this country and the welfare of its people. (Applause.) As Secretary Salazar has said, you have become the "Department of America."
For the services you provide touch the lives of all Americans -- from the clean water we drink to the clean energy we must generate; from historic monuments and museums that educate and inspire to the vast wilderness that each new generation can discover and explore. You manage 500 million acres of land, or roughly one-fifth of the area of the United States, and 1.7 billion acres offshore.
It was under this department -- it was this department under President Teddy Roosevelt that helped lead an unprecedented effort to protect our natural resources. It was under this department, under President Franklin Roosevelt, that Secretary Harold Ickes supervised the Civilian Conservation Corps to help us overcome the Great Depression.
And your mission is more important than ever before. The Interior Department manages the land on which 30 percent of the nation's energy is produced. So you have a major role to play, all of you, in our clean energy future. The nation is depending on you to help us end the tyranny of foreign oil and become energy independent -- by harnessing the wind and the sun, our water, our soil, and American innovation.
That's why I'm proud to join you this afternoon. That's why I am pleased that this department is in the capable hands of my great friend Ken Salazar. And that is why the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act creates jobs by making historic investments in the Department of the Interior.
This plan will provide more than $3 billion to the department to create jobs doing the work that America needs you to do. It will create jobs increasing our capacity to generate renewable energy on public lands -- and retrofitting facilities to be far more energy efficient. It will provide for the renovation of laboratories and the replacement of research equipment that in some cases is half a century old.
We'll fund the long-delayed work to preserve our natural wonders and historic landmarks, from Yellowstone National Park to the Statue of Liberty. And we will invest in the roads on which 275 million visitors travel to reach these sites across our country.
We'll provide clean, reliable drinking water to rural areas, promote water conservation, repair aging water infrastructure.
And the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act will rebuild and remodel schools on Indian reservations across this country -- while providing more than $100 million in loans to spur job creation in the Indian economy. (Applause.)
Under the leadership of Secretary Salazar, these investments will be made with unprecedented oversight. In the past, as all of you know, we've seen lapses that have damaged the reputation of this department, despite the integrity and faithful service of the vast majority of people who work here. In just these first five weeks, Secretary Salazar has helped bring about a new era of responsibility and accountability. (Applause.) It is in this spirit that my recovery plan is being implemented.
Finally, today I've signed a memorandum that will help restore the scientific process to its rightful place at the heart of the Endangered Species Act, a process undermined by past administrations. (Applause.) The work of scientists and experts in my administration -- including right here in the Interior Department -- will be respected. For more than three decades, the Endangered Species Act has successfully protected our nation's most threatened wildlife, and we should be looking for ways to improve it -- not weaken it.
Throughout our history, there's been a tension between those who've sought to conserve our natural resources for the benefit of future generations, and those who have sought to profit from these resources. But I'm here to tell you this is a false choice. With smart, sustainable policies, we can grow our economy today and preserve the environment for ourselves, our children, and our grandchildren. That is what we must do. (Applause.)
For you know, you know that our long-term prosperity depends upon the faithful stewardship of the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the land that we sow. That's a sacred trust, the importance of which cannot be measured merely by the acres we protect, the miles of rivers we preserve, the energy we draw from public lands.
It's a child wandering amidst ancient redwoods, a love for science stirred as she looks skyward. It's a young man running his hand along the walls at Ellis Island, where his grandmother once carried her every possession and the hope of a new life. It's a family hiking along canyons carved by ancient floods, or mountains shaped by shifting continents -- finding peace in the beauty of the natural world. These are experiences that enrich our lives and remind us of the blessings that we share.
And that was certainly the case for me. As many of you know, I spent much of my childhood in Hawaii, a place of extraordinary beauty and -- we've got a Hawaiian in there -- (laughter) -- a place of extraordinary beauty, and one that's home to several national parks and historic sites. But before my 11th birthday, my grandmother decided it was time for me to see the mainland.
So my grandmother, my mother, my sister and I all flew to Seattle. And we drove down the coast along the coast of California, and then east to the Grand Canyon. We headed across the Great Plains and to the Great Lakes, before heading back west through Yellowstone.
That was an experience I will never forget. It's an experience I want for my daughters, and for all of our daughters and sons, to see the incredible beauty of this nation. It's an experience that's only possible because of the work you do each and every day.
So thank you. God bless you, and God bless the United States of America. Thank you, everybody.
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.