For nearly 100 years, federal and state governments have worked together on implementing infrastructure projects, with states creating and maintaining them and the federal government setting standards and providing funding. And, as with so much else infrastructure-related, that partnership has become bloated, inefficient and unsustainable.
OK, that may be a bit of an overstatement, but the Government Accountability Office did find in a surprisingly lucid late-April review, requested by conferee Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., that the current federal-state partnership on infrastructure projects comes with a handful of risks, including "cases where [Federal Highway Authority] was lax in its oversight by trusting but not verifying state activities and cases where FHWA demonstrated reluctance to take corrective action to bring states back into compliance, which can result in ineffective, wasteful, and potentially improper use of federal funds."
The GAO's recommendations are somewhat ideologically split. On one hand, the GAO advocates for the implementation of a performance-based highway program--as is outlined in the Senate transportation bill--an expansion of government some conservatives might take issue with. But such a program will only add to an already resource-strapped FHWA, so the GAO also recommends devolving some responsibilities for managing and funding projects to states, a move some conservatives might back.
How should the federal-state partnership on infrastructure projects be structured? Is a performance-based system all that's needed? Or do states need much more oversight? Can they get by with less? Is it time for some grand reform of the federal-state relationship or will tweaks suffice?