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Ernst Pushes for Full Disclosure of Costs, Timeline for Billion Dollar Government Projects Over Budget and Behind Schedule

Among others, Ernst targets California’s multi-billion dollar failed high-speed train project that is $44 billion over budget, 13 years behind schedule

WASHINGTON—Iowans sent Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) to Washington to hold the government accountable and to “make ‘em squeal.” As part of that effort, Senator Ernst is introducing a bill that will require full public disclosure of the cost and timeline of mammoth government-funded projects costing billions more than promised and behind schedule, such as California’s infamous failed high-speed rail project.

“Iowans deserve to know how their hard-earned money is being spent. There are far too many taxpayer-funded projects that are billions of dollars over budget and years behind schedule,” said Senator Joni Ernst. “The Billion Dollar Boondoggle Act will require the disclosure of the cost and timeline of these federal projects, bringing overdue accountability and transparency to the process, which will allow us to identify problems before they become a bottomless pit of taxpayer dollars.”

The Billion Dollar Boondoggle Act requires the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to submit to Congress an annual report listing every government-funded project that is $1 billion or more over budget or five years or more behind schedule. For each project, the report would provide:

  • a brief description, including the purpose, location, the year in which it was begun, the Federal share of the total cost, and the contractors and grant recipients;
  • an explanation of any change to the original scope of the project, including adding to or narrowing of the initial requirements;
  • the original expected and current expected completion date;
  • the original and current cost estimate;
  • an explanation for a delay in completion or increase in the original cost estimate; and,
  • the amount of and rationale for any award, incentive fee, or other type of bonus awarded for the project.

Identifying projects that are significantly over budget or behind schedule allows Congress and federal agencies to better manage taxpayer dollars and prevent bigger boondoggles. Often these projects are riddled with avoidable complications, like workers being paid for not working, contractor kickbacks exchanged for preferential treatment, or retaliation against whistleblowers for bringing problems to light. Not every project that misses a deadline or costs more than anticipated is a boondoggle. Those symptoms, however, can be warning signs of larger troubles, such as questionable expenditures, mismanagement, incompetency, and even corruption.

While there are many boondoggles in our federal government, here are five projects that Senator Ernst would like to highlight:

1.     High-Speed Train on Fast Track to Nowhere

Project:  A 520-mile high-speed “bullet” train rail line connecting San Francisco and Los Angeles is 13 years behind schedule and $44 billion over its original price tag.

Original Cost Estimate:  $33.6 billion in 2008

Current Cost Estimate:  $77.3 billion

Project Began:  Construction began in October 2013

Original Completion Date:  2020

Current Completion Date:  2033

Federal Spending:  $3.5 billion to date.

2.     Subway Tunnel Keeps Digging a Deeper Hole 

Project:  The East Side Access project to connect New York City’s subway between Long Island and Grand Central Station is nine years behind schedule and almost $5 billion over budget.

Original Cost Estimate:  $4.3 billion in 1999 and revised upward to $6.3 billion in 2006

Current Cost Estimate:  $11.1 billion

Project Began:  2007

Original Completion Date: 2009 in 1999 and revised to December 2013 in 2006

Current Completion Date:  December 2022

Federal Spending:  $2.7 billion

3.     Census Bureau Can’t Count

Project:  The 2020 national population count conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau is more than $3 billion over budget and will be the most expensive in U.S. history and government auditors are warning that the current cost estimate is not reliable.

Original Cost Estimate:  $12.3 billion in 2015

Current Cost Estimate:  $15.6 billion

Project Began:  2012

Original Completion Date:  September 2023

Current Completion Date:  September 2023

Federal Spending:  $15.6 billion

4.     Waste Clean Up Is A Total Mess

Project:  The cleanup of radioactive waste at a site in Washington state where plutonium was produced during the Cold War began decades ago, but has not treated any waste as of yet.  As a result, the project is 25 years behind schedule and may end up costing $100 billion more than originally estimated.

Original Cost Estimate:  $4.3 billion to complete the waste treatment plant and $47- $50 billion to complete the cleanup

Current Cost Estimate: $16.8 billion for the waste treatment plant, and $141 billion to complete the cleanup.

Project Began:  1989 (The project has been repeatedly canceled and restarted.)

Original Completion Date:  The plant was required to begin operating in 2011 with the tank waste treatment to be completed by 2028.

Current Completion Date:  Operation of the plant has been delayed until the end of 2036 with most of the cleanup finished by 2060 and the entire project completed before the end of 2090.

Federal Spending:  More than $19 billion has already been spent as of 2015 and the project is costing $2.5 billion a year, but the agency says more than $4 billion is needed per year for the duration of the mission to meet the “scheduled milestones.”

5.     Grounded Moon Rocket Costs Soar

Project: The rocket intended to return astronauts to the moon has been grounded by repeated delays while its costs are soaring billions of dollars over budget due to the “poor performance” of a contractor that continues to be paid big bonuses by NASA.

Original Cost Estimate: $6.2 billion in 2012

Current Cost Estimate:  At least $8.9 billion projected in 2018.

Project Began:  2012

Original Completion Date:  June 2017 for delivery of the first stage; the first unmanned mission was planned for December 2017 with the first crewed mission was projected to launch in mid-2021.

Current Completion Date: December 2019 for delivery of the first stage; the first unmanned mission has been rescheduled for mid-2020 and the first crewed mission is now planned for mid-2022.

Federal Spending: $5.3 billion as of August 2018.