U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson, R-Ga. last week demanded answers from one Obama administration official who played a key role in refusing to give the green light in March to the Savannah Harbor Deepening Project, which is Georgia’s number one economic development project.
During a hearing of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, 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.
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.
“There is no challenge for me as a U.S. senator more important than getting the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project done in my state,” Isakson said. “The port of Savannah is not a parochial Georgia issue. It is an issue for the entire trade and economy of the United States of America and is a net positive export port.”
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.
Burwell called SHEP “a terrific project with a very high return on investment,” and added: “I think there are ways this project can go 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 leaders of both chambers are working to reconcile the differences in the two bills. A final version of the bill 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.”
Burwell also must appear before the Senate Finance Committee as part of her confirmation process, and Isakson will have the opportunity to question her again on that panel. A date for that hearing has not yet been set. The Finance Committee will be responsible for holding a vote on Burwell’s nomination before it goes to the full Senate for a vote.
Press Release, May 12, 2014