Buttigieg Defends Infrastructure Memo After Republican Backlash

  • Maintenance priority guidance is nonbinding, secretary says
  • Buttigieg will speak on infrastructure law Wednesday

Bloomberg Government subscribers get the stories like this first. Act now and gain unlimited access to everything you need to know. Learn more.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg is defending his department’s approach to spending infrastructure law money against Republican criticism.

Republicans have taken issue with a December memo from the Federal Highway Administration to staff that said in “most cases” highway money through the infrastructure law should be used to repair and maintain existing infrastructure before spending on “expansions for additional general purpose capacity.” That approach goes against congressional intent, GOP lawmakers said.

Buttigieg sought to quell those concerns ahead of a hearing Wednesday on how his department is carrying out the infrastructure law.

“It is not a directive” to state transportation departments or governors, “and does not impose any one-size-fits-all solutions to solving their transportation challenges,” he wrote in a letter Monday that Bloomberg Government obtained.

Biden’s Climate Promises Challenged by Highway Money Influx

Photo: Samuel Corum/Bloomberg
Pete Buttigieg, U.S. secretary of transportation, speaks during a news conference at his department in Washington on Feb. 10, 2022.

The memo is consistent with the infrastructure law and just provides guidance to staff on how to help states put the law in place, Buttigieg said in his letter, sent to Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.).

“FHWA does not have, and has not asserted, the authority to change the structure of the Federal-aid funding system, which is state administered and federally funded. There are no mandates or prohibitions in the memo,” Buttigieg wrote.

Buttigieg plans to appear before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee’s hearing Wednesday on the infrastructure law’s deployment. The Transportation Department has started to distribute funds and set up programs from the law (Public Law 117-58) enacted in November.

Buttigieg wrote to Capito, ranking member of the committee, in response to pushback from her and other top Republicans about the December memo, which they said should be rescinded or substantially revised.

“The policies outlined in the memorandum reflect a decidedly different approach that appears to restrict the flexibility of states and impose one-size-fits-all solutions,” the senators wrote in a letter last month.

Capito didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the letter.

To contact the reporter on this story: Lillianna Byington in Washington at lbyington@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Sarah Babbage at sbabbage@bgov.com; Robin Meszoly at rmeszoly@bgov.com

Stay informed with more news like this – from the largest team of reporters on Capitol Hill – subscribe to Bloomberg Government today. Learn more.