March 25, 2021

Chair DeFazio Statement from Full Committee Hearing with Secretary Pete Buttigieg on Administration’s Transportation Infrastructure Priorities

Washington, D.C. — The following are opening remarks, as prepared for delivery, from Chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Peter DeFazio (D-OR) during today’s hearing titled, “The Administration’s Priorities for Transportation Infrastructure.” Video of DeFazio’s opening statement is here. More information on the hearing, including Secretary Buttigieg’s prepared testimony, can be found here.

Chair DeFazio:

Today, the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee kicks into high gear our work to advance surface transportation authorization and infrastructure investment. We had planned to host the Secretary for our first hearing of the 117th Congress—because getting this monumental effort across the finish line is this Committee’s top legislative priority.

We have no time to waste. The American people—who rely on our roads, bridges, bike lanes, transit systems, railroads, airports, and waterways for their mobility and for their livelihoods—cannot wait. Infrastructure is integral to the functioning of our economy and investing heavily in it at this moment in time is key to our nation’s recovery.

We know our infrastructure needs are massive: the American Society of Civil Engineers’ (ASCE) latest report documents an investment gap of $2.6 trillion over the next 10 years to fix what we have, meet future needs, and restore America’s competitiveness. We know the question is not whether we need to invest, but what consequences we’ll suffer for every day of delay as the risk of failure of our aging and fragile assets increases.

We know the dramatic impact that federal transportation and infrastructure investments have in creating and sustaining good family-wage jobs that can’t be outsourced. And how these investments support American manufacturing through the robust Buy America standards in the programs this Committee authorizes. 

And we know that in this pivotal time, it’s not just how much we invest, but how we invest these funds that will determine whether an infrastructure bill moves our nation in the right direction. It is time to reimagine how we plan and build transportation projects, and put our money behind achieving a new vision. As I’ve said many times, we have to move beyond Eisenhower 7.0. 

That is why, last Congress, this Committee advanced H.R. 2, the Moving Forward Act, which provided record levels of investment—$500 billion—in surface transportation programs. This transformational bill focused on investing in the outcomes that are possible under a new vision:

  • a safer, more equitable transportation network for all users,
  • a cleaner transportation footprint and less carbon pollution,
  • well-trained and well-paid workers who are ready for new technologies,
  • underserved communities whose voices are heard and whose needs are met,
  • transportation systems planned around what truly matters to people—greater and easier access to jobs and essential services,
  • more efficient mobility utilizing innovation, and
  • safe, resilient assets—in good repair—that are built to last.

These are not aspirational principles. These are real policy changes and real shifts in how we invest that are woven throughout H.R. 2.

Mr. Secretary, I know you share my commitment to this vision. Many of these principles overlap with the administration’s Build Back Better plan.

But you also know first-hand as a former mayor how vital seamless mobility and well-functioning transportation systems are to quality of life in cities and towns across America. Moving people and goods safely and efficiently is the whole point of good transportation policy.

Transforming federal transportation funding to provide greater local decision-making, and ensuring communities of all sizes receive a guaranteed portion of funding under the bill, was a central theme of H.R. 2. Local elected officials know the granular needs of their communities better than anyone in the state capitols or in federal agencies.

This Congress, Members are going to have even greater opportunities to shape investments flowing to their local communities as this Committee will collect requests for projects. Through a transparent, equitable process, Members of Congress can help direct investments to elevate the greatest needs of their districts and boost local control. I am pleased that my Republican colleagues are joining in this effort.

Finally, while I have mostly focused on transportation investments on the ground, developments in the skies also require your attention. At the end of 2016, the outgoing administration imprudently issued a foreign air carrier permit to Norwegian Air International—an airline that was “Norwegian” in name only and established itself in Ireland under a flag of convenience to avoid Norway’s strong labor protections. Norwegian is bankrupt, and its U.S. services have ceased, but its founder is forming a new carrier that will likely seek a permit—Norse Atlantic—and it is imperative that you correct the error of 2016 and deny this airline’s application.

I also urge you to pay close attention to the Federal Aviation Administration’s implementation of the bipartisan aircraft certification reform bill, which was enacted in December in response to two deadly Boeing 737 MAX accidents and the findings of this Committee’s investigation and the recommendations of other impartial panels, including the National Transportation Safety Board.

On the subject of open mandates, I urge you to expedite action on numerous unfulfilled mandates from the 2018 Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization: (1) the requirement for secondary cockpit barriers, and (2) the mandate for a final rule to address fatigue among flight attendants, among many others. And then there’s the mandate from the 2016 Federal Aviation Administration authorization extension bill, requiring a final rule on drug and alcohol testing of workers at foreign repair stations. It, too, remains open.

Thank you, Mr. Secretary, for joining us today. We are eager to hear how we can best work together with you, President Biden, and Vice President Harris, on achieving our shared goals and moving America forward.