Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Obama administration used economic stimulus money to pay for 50 airport projects that didn’t meet the grant criteria and approved projects at four airports with a history of mismanaging federal grants, a government watchdog said Monday.

Transportation Department Inspector General Calvin Scovel said he plans to examine the Federal Aviation Administration’s process for selecting programs for the $1.1 billion in grant money.

Among the projects that Mr. Scovel said didn’t meet the FAA’s minimum score was $14 million that went to Akiachak, Alaska, a town of 659 residents, to replace its airfield. The town has a seaplane and is only 14 nautical miles from the state’s fourth-busiest airport.

Nearly $15 million went to another Alaska town, Ouzinkie, which has 167 residents, to replace its gravel runway. The town has a float-plane landing area in its harbor. Barges also provide cargo delivery from Kodiak, 10 miles away.

Other projects Mr. Scovel said didn’t meet FAA’s threshold were $4.8 million for a new taxiway in Findlay, Ohio; $2.2 million for a runway extension at Wilbur Airport in Washington state, $2 million for an apron at Skyhaven Airport in Warrensburg, Mo., and $909,806 to design a runway at a small airport near Dover, Del. He said those airports don’t provide commercial passenger service and have limited flight operations.

“According to FAA, the Dover project was chosen because it was the state’s only project that was ‘ready to go,’ ” Mr. Scovel said in a letter to the department.

Mr. Scovel also cited four grants to recipients that have a history of mismanaging government money, “raising doubts about their ability to ensure (stimulus) funds are effectively administered.” The four grantees are Guam International Airport Authority; Owensboro-Daviess County, Ky.; Pitkin County, Colo.; and the Puerto Rico Port Authority.

Owensboro-Daviess County, for example, received $658,730, despite reports citing its poor administration of federal airport funds for 10 of the past 11 years, Mr. Scovel said.

Transportation Department Deputy Secretary John Porcari said the grants criticized by Mr. Scovel were part of an effort to help small airports meet safety standards.

Mr. Porcari said Mr. Scovel’s description of the projects as imprudent was “an overstatement.” He said the projects would ensure that Alaskans had access to emergency medical service.

For selecting stimulus projects, the FAA scored projects on a 100-point scale. A score of 62 qualified for money. The projects cited by Mr. Scovel scored between 40 and 50 points. Mr. Porcari said the scoring system was just a way to help focus stimulus spending.

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