Isakson Presses Administration Official on Moving Forward with Savannah Harbor Project
Questions HHS Nominee Who Played Key Role in Prohibiting Savannah Project from Moving Forward in March
WASHINGTON – For the second week in a row, U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., today continued to push for answers from the Obama administration on the next steps needed to put the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project back on track to begin construction this year following the administration’s failure in March to include the project in the president’s 2015 budget request.
During a Senate Finance Committee hearing today, Isakson questioned Sylvia Burwell, the current director of the Office of Management and Budget who has been nominated by the President to be Secretary of Health and Human Services.
He began his questioning by reiterating that he has “no more important responsibility as a member of the United States Senate” than to see that SHEP is funded and allowed to move forward.
“We’d hit a bump in the road upon the submission of the president’s budget by OMB earlier in the year … and I wanted to bring about clarity on the way forward,” Isakson said to Burwell.
Isakson cited conversations over the past several days with Burwell, her staff and the assistant secretary of the Army Corps of Engineers in which the administration outlined a specific path to expediting the necessary steps for construction to begin on the Savannah harbor project. That path starts with the expected upcoming final passage of the Water Resources Reform & Development Act, known informally as WRRDA, by the House and Senate.
Burwell replied to Isakson that she is hopeful WRRDA will pass quickly so “we can get on our way with this important project.”
This was the second week in a row that Isakson has publicly grilled Burwell on SHEP. Last week, Isakson questioned her on SHEP in a hearing in the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.
The Savannah harbor project, known informally as SHEP, has a cost-benefit ratio of 5.5 to 1, an annual net benefit to the nation of $174 million and would support hundreds of thousands of jobs each year.
As the state’s number one economic development project, SHEP has overwhelming bipartisan support from Georgia’s local, state and federal leaders. In March 2014, Isakson joined all 16 members of the Georgia congressional delegation in sending a letter to Burwell expressing disappointment in OMB for its failure to support for SHEP despite repeated promises made by the administration to move forward with the project.
During a hearing of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions last week, Isakson pressed Burwell on her role in the March 2014 OMB decision to ignore explicit guidance from Congress to request the necessary funding for the Savannah Harbor Deepening Project and allow the project to move forward.
Burwell indicated that final passage by Congress of the Water Resources Development Act, known informally as the WRDA bill, will be a key factor in determining whether the administration will allow SHEP to proceed. The Senate and House have each passed their version of the WRDA bill, and lead negotiators from both chambers announced an agreement has been reached last Friday, May 9, 2014, to reconcile the differences in the two bills. A final version of the conference report will have to be voted on by the House and Senate before it can become law.
The president previously included SHEP in his 2012 “We Can’t Wait” initiative, in which he specifically pledged to expedite SHEP and four other port projects. Just seven months ago, Vice President Biden visited the port in Savannah and said the project would be expedited and built “come hell or high water.”
The Finance Committee will be responsible for holding a vote on Burwell’s nomination before it goes to the full Senate for a vote. A date for that vote has not yet been set.