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BUDGET: Murray Questions OMB Director on Washington State Priorities in Budget

Feb 02 2010

Murray asks about Hanford, Howard Hanson Dam, and Washington state VA construction

Listen to Q & A.  |  Watch entire hearing

(Washington, D.C.) –Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) attended a hearing of the Senate Budget Committee examining the President’s fiscal year 2011 budget proposal. Murray questioned Peter Orszag, Director of the Office of Management and Budget, about issues important to Washington state.

Murray asked Orszag about specific Washington state priority issues, including:

  • Hanford cleanup funding
  • Army Corps funding for Howard Hanson Dam 
  • Washington state VA construction

Hanford:

Read Senator Murray’s full statement on Hanford funding.

Murray: “Dr. Orszag, I want to talk a minute about a subject I know you understand is of great importance to me and that is the DOE’s Environmental Management budget.  We’re in a different place from last year when the EM budget had  a proposed cut and do I want to thank you for the proposed increase which I view as an acknowledgement that the federal government does have an obligation to clean up these sites across our nation.  I think it’s important that our citizen see the Administration put your money where your mouth is when it comes to meeting those very important moral and legal obligations of cleanup.

“Having said that, I’m sure you expected that I have specific questions regarding the overall budget for the Hanford site in my home state of Washington.   I am worried that it appears DOE is once again offsetting base program work with ARRA dollars. 

“That was never the intention of the funds and this practice sets up a huge hurdle to overcome when all that money is gone.  From what I can see the use of ARRA as an offset is not uniformly applied.  I’m also concerned that there is a significant reduction to the groundwater work.  My time is limited and I have other questions to ask so I would like to sit down with folks from your team to understand how these decisions are made and work our way through it.”

Orszag: “I’d be delighted to do that.”

Howard Hanson Dam

Murray: “Dr. Orszag, as you are no doubt aware, the Corps’ Howard Hanson Dam in my state has a significant seepage problem that is prohibiting the Corps from operating the dam at its fully authorized level of flood protection to the downstream communities.

“There is a study underway to determine the permanent fix to the dam in the Corps’ Dam Safety/Seepage Stability Correction Program.  I understand is also currently conducting studies on nearly seventy other projects as well.  All of these studies are proposed to be funded for $49 million in your FY11 budget.  I am very concerned that this level of funding won’t be sufficient to undertake that many studies. 

“Is $49 million the Corps' full capability for this line item?”

Orszag: “We do believe that it would give the Corps an adequate capability. We would be happy to sit down and walk you through that.”

Murray: “It’s really important that we get those studies done so we can begin the construction in 2012 because it will be significant damage if that doesn’t get fixed.”

Veterans

Read Senator Murray’s full statement on VA funding.

Murray: “I am pleased to see policy changes in the VA budget providing greater access for non-disabled veterans with modest incomes.

“I do want to ask you about the veterans’ construction budgets for both major and minor construction declining as we plan to increase the number of beneficiaries by roughly 550,000 non-disabled veterans by 2013.

“This is especially concerning because of the increasing demands of disabled veterans and the unique needs of female veterans which we are seeing a huge increase of.

“Increasing the construction budget would also provide an opportunity to create jobs in the construction industry.

“What is your rationale for reducing the overall construction budget by 15 percent?”

Orszag: “Although there is a reduction from 2010, we’re still at historically high levels for the construction account. We believe it will allow the VA to focus on the highest priorities in terms of its construction. This is in a context in which the VA budget has gone up between 2010 and 2011 by 20%.”

Murray: “And that’s mostly for beneficiaries that we have a huge increase in need for, so we can’t ignore that.  But I’m specifically concerned about the construction dollars. These are project out across the country that we have been working on, trying to get built to meet the demands of the VA, so reducing the construction budget in particular by 15% is of real concern to many of us.”

Orszag: “I understand that, and I would again emphasize that even with that it is still at an historic high level, and I know Secretary Shinseki and others would be delighted to walk you through that.”

Murray: “And we will definitely be asking them that.”