WASHINGTON — A report due to be released today by a Republican senator contends the Obama administration's stimulus program is fraught with waste and incompetence — evidenced by a turtle crossing in northern Florida that will cost more than $3 million and a mistake in which thousands of Social Security checks went out to people who had died.
Modeled after a release from the White House describing 100 stimulus projects that were in the works, the report put out by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., looks at the same number of projects but reaches starkly different conclusions. The title is A Second Opinion on the Stimulus.
"Will these projects make real improvements in the lives of taxpayers and communities or are they simply pet projects of politicians and lobbyists that never got off the ground because they are a low priority?" the report asks.
Coburn's staff spent about a month interviewing federal officials, reviewing data and compiling local news clippings as part of a continuing examination of the $787 billion stimulus package. Millions of dollars are going toward bicycle lockers, bike paths, walking trails and a skate park, Coburn said. One town in North Carolina is using stimulus funds to hire an administrator whose job will be procuring more stimulus funds, according to the report.
The White House pushed back hard, trying to debunk the report before its official release. Poring over a draft of the report, Obama aides said Monday the senator's research was flawed and in some cases driven by ideological differences.
Certain projects highlighted by Coburn have been stopped. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers put out a statement Monday that it would drop plans to spend $1.1 million to repair a guardrail near a dry, man-made lake in the Oklahoma panhandle — project 7 in Coburn's report.
Ed DeSeve, a senior aide to Obama, said in a prepared statement: "With 20,000 projects approved, there are bound to be some mistakes — when we find them, we have been transparent about it, and worked on a bipartisan basis to shut them down immediately. Sen. Coburn's report, however, is filled with inaccuracies, including criticisms of projects that have already been stopped, projects that never were approved, and some projects that are working quite well."
A theme of Coburn's work is that money is going toward dubious projects that will leave little imprint. One project mentioned is the $3.4 million construction of a 13-foot tunnel near Tallahassee that will allow turtles and other wildlife to safely cross U.S. 27.
Officials at Florida's transportation department defended the project as one that will save turtles and protect motorists. "A lot of these turtles are quite large. They get hit by a car and they turn into flying objects," said Josh Boan, the department's natural resources manager.