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Under fire for wasteful spending, LaHood suspends overseas study program

Posted by on June 23rd, 2011 at 11:29 am

SW Moody project groundbreaking

Sec. LaHood has suspended
an FHWA program that
sent Americans overseas
to learn transportation
best practices.
(Photo © J. Maus)

After ABC News questioned spending on a trip to Europe by American bureaucrats to study outdoor advertising practices, U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has suspended all funding for the FHWA’s International Technology Scanning Program.

That program has funded many transportation policy-related trips over the years, including one that looked at European biking and walking safety and mobility practices in 2009.

In May 2009, 12 transportation experts visited five countries in Europe to glean lessons on how to improve biking and walking safety and mobility. Among the officials on the trip was Oregon’s former state traffic engineer Ed Fischer (now retired). We reported on that trip and linked to their final report, Pedestrian and Bicyclist Safety and Mobility in Europe back in September.

Other international scan trips have focused on everything from pavement technologies and bridge construction methods, to sustainable transportation practices and congestion pricing.

PBOT City Traffic Engineer
Rob Burchfield riding in
Copenhagen in 2008.
(Photo: Mikael Colville-Andersen)

Exchanging knowledge of best practices is common in American bike planning and policy circles. National bike industry supported non-profit Bikes Belong has their own “Best Practices Program” which lists “study tours” to foreign countries as one of their key areas of focus.

Portland planners, experts, and elected officials have made several trips to Europe over the years to better understand bike policies. In just one example, Metro hosted a week-long trip to Amsterdam and Copenhagen for their Blue Ribbon Committee on Trails back in 2008.

Sec. LaHood’s office told us this morning they are simply acting on President Obama’s orders. Here’s their official statement:

“The President has been clear: we must get rid of stupid spending and pointless waste. Each taxpayer dollar is precious, and there is no excuse for wasting a single one. That’s why, as part of the President’s Campaign to Cut Waste, I have suspended this program. I have directed the Federal Highway Administration to shut down this program until further notice while I personally review the way taxpayer dollars have been spent. From the outset of this administration, I have urged agency personnel to be judicious and cost-conscious in the use of official travel and we will not tolerate any abuse of the public trust.”

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chad
Guest

“…we must get rid of stupid spending and pointless waste.”

Ok, how about getting rid of the CRC then.

Shane
Guest

Learning from other countries is not “stupid spending and pointless waste”. It is necessary and important for our countries growth and prosperity. The world is getting smaller and we have much to learn from what others are doing.

In fact, here’s a blog of a UO Professor doing just that thing right now in Amsterdam.
http://2011bikesabroad.blogspot.com

I personally have been inspired and helped by the scan tours you mentioned in this article. Expanding our knowledge is fiscally sound and smart!

Hmmm
Guest
Hmmm

So it’s okay to travel to a foreign country to waste billions of dollars to blow it up so you can make them so mad at you that you can justify blowing it up for a dozen more years; but not to see how Europeans have saved their highly profitable tourist attractions from the ugly scourge of billboards.

Ted Buehler
Guest

Yeah, like Chad said, I’d just as soon have them keep sending transportation officials to Europe to learn how to get people out of cars… and stop funding highway megaprojects like the CRC!

Ted Buehler

Tim
Guest
Tim

I have actualy used information from the FHWA’s International Technology Scanning Program. While the program could be abused to take vacations to Europe, the information collect is valuable. Europe is far ahead of the US in transportation revitalization. Instaed of throwing out the program, through out anyone that abuses the program.

Jim F
Guest
Jim F

They spent $300,000 on this trip, including luxury hotels and lavish meals. To study billboards. Now, in the scope of the national budget, this doesn’t even qualify as pocket lint. But still — pretty damn bad judgment in this economic climate.

Paul Cone
Guest
Paul Cone

How is it that funding for studying transportation is in the same pot as studying advertising? Makes no sense to me.

Brad
Guest
Brad

There is already a load of information, studies, and first hand accounts of European traffic infrastructure to make decisions and adapt them to our transportation systems. Personally, I see most of these trips as mostly taxpayer funded vacation junkets for bureaucrats and elected officials.

Crowdsourcing the existing knowledge base on these topics would be far more efficient and cost effective.

captainkarma
Guest
captainkarma

I would listen to this popsquat concern if they would only STOP the CONSTANT WAR. Doesn’t anybody even care? I am not being political, merely economic. One month in Iraq, nine BILLION dollars. And they want to cut grandma’s medicare?

brian johnson
Guest
brian johnson

The savings from cutting spending such as this amount to a few rockets and bombs in our seemingly endless muddling in other countries’ affairs. (Most recently Libya.)

Healthcare is suffering. Our educational institutions are under economic siege.

“Cutting stupid spending” indeed. How about stupid spending cuts.

brett
Guest
brett

I don’t know about the billboard program, and maybe some review of accountability is needed, but I do know first hand that studying cycling infrastructure in Europe absolutely requires that you be there, and that you walk and bike and take public transit in person. So much of transportation choice involves how it feels — it’s partly psychological — and you can’t really understand what feels safe or enjoyable or confusing or scary or comfortable without actually putting yourself on the ground and experiencing it first hand.
Or to put it another way: do we want bureaucrats making decisions about how we get around town based solely on manuals and theories, second hand reports and conventional wisdom — or do we want them to also have actual, practical, first-hand user experience with the various options and facilities they’re designing?
Until I went to Europe and biked along some of these corridors to schools and shops and so on, I didn’t fully understand, in more than an abstract why, exactly why so many more people in certain cities chose to cycle for their daily errands. I also returned with a much better idea of what would and wouldn’t work here, and what sorts of options were available to adapt to our streets.