- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Congress eventually stopped the infamous “Bridge to Nowhere,” but what about the permanent bridge, the one seemingly under construction forever, or whose budget keeps rising?

That’s what Sen. Joni Ernst would like to get a handle on.

The Iowa Republican, who during her 2014 campaign promised voters she would “make ‘em squeal” in Washington, says her new Billion Dollar Boondoggle Act would do just that, requiring the White House to report each year on federal projects that are at least $1 billion over budget or five years behind schedule.

“Iowans deserve to know how their hard-earned money is being spent,” the senator said. “There are far too many taxpayer-funded projects that are billions of dollars over budget and years behind schedule.”

The bill aims to require a more complete disclosure of the cost and timeline of these federal projects, which “will allow us to identify problems before they become a bottomless pit of taxpayer dollars,” Ms. Ernst said.

She said a prime example was the California High Speed Rail project, which was sold to state voters in 2008 as a silver bullet that would flash between Los Angeles and San Francisco, helping the environment and at a cost of around $40 billion.

Instead, the project remains bogged down — the price has ballooned today to an estimated $77 billion simply to have high-speed rail through the Golden State’s Central Valley and that’s not until 2026 or 2027.

Last week, President Trump canceled another $1 billion in federal money earmarked for the California trains and announced plans to try to claw back some of the $2.5 billion already shoveled into the project.

Ms. Ernst said there are other projects with similar budget expansions and timeline extensions.

• A project to connect New York City’s subway between Long Island and Grand Central Station is nine years behind schedule and $5 billion over budget, having already consumed $2.7 billion in federal money.

• The 2020 Census, which is now more than $3 billion past its original price tag and has cost $15.6 billion to date.

• A radioactive waste cleanup project in Washington state that has crept along 25 years behind schedule and could eventually come out $100 billion over the original budget. Taxpayers have spent $19 billion on the effort thus far, with costs running at another $2.5 billion annually.

Watchdog groups welcomed the idea Congress would sharpen their pencils.

“Senator Ernst is providing the kind of oversight taxpayers want to see more of in Washington,” said Adam Andrzejewski[cq], CEO and founder of OpenTheBooks, a nonpartisan group dedicated to transparency in public spending.

“This legislation will provide much-needed transparency and sunlight to boondoggles that are often low priority or political in nature.”

• James Varney can be reached at jvarney@washingtontimes.com.

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