WASHINGTON — Sen. Tom Coburn released a report on Tuesday of 100 stimulus projects that he considers wasteful, but the White House hit back with the charge that some of the report is "just flat out wrong.” Coburn, R-Muskogee, cited projects nationwide, ranging from a turtle crossing in Florida to a train station renovation in Pennsylvania. Coburn’s top 10 wasteful projects include two in Oklahoma: a guardrail around the nearly waterless Lake Optima and a grant with strings attached for a wastewater treatment plant in Perkins. "The American people have a right to know how their stimulus dollars are being spent,” Coburn said. "In too many cases, stimulus projects are wasting money we don’t have on things we don’t need. "I opposed the stimulus bill because I was concerned that 80 to 90 percent of the spending would not be true stimulus. I hope I am proven wrong. Yet, our initial findings continue to show that taxpayers are not getting the value they deserve and need.” But White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said "there are a number of entries throughout this report that are just simply wrong. This president has taken historic steps to ensure that there is adequate transparency and that this money is spent the way it’s intended to be used.” Gibbs also said some projects had been canceled "based on our own looking into this.”
Optima Lake projectAccording to the administration, one of the canceled projects was the guardrail at Optima Lake in the Oklahoma Panhandle. Coburn and Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Tulsa, last week wrote a letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers complaining about building a $1.15 million guardrail around a lake with no water. Ross Adkins, a spokesman in the corps’ Tulsa office, said a statement had been put out from the Washington headquarters on Monday that work on the project "is not going forward.” Adkins described the lake as "out in the middle of nowhere” and said other alternatives for protecting public safety would be examined. But Coburn spokesman John Hart said the corps has not officially killed the project and may, in fact, go forward with it. The Tulsa region developed a list of dozens of projects, including guardrails at other Oklahoma lakes, to be funded with money from the $787 billion stimulus package. "They asked for a laundry list of recommendations of things that we could do,” he said.
Perkins’ problemAccording to Hart and Coburn’s report, the Perkins wastewater treatment plant project grew in cost because of the union wage and Buy America rules attached to it. The cost escalation negated any benefit from receiving the money, the report states, and led to an increase in residents’ utility bills. Gibbs said the problem in Perkins was the state loan used by the city for the balance of the project cost, but Hart said the loan had nothing to do with raising the cost of the project. Gibbs said he hadn’t looked at all of the projects cited in Coburn’s report. Hart said it was "disappointing that he’s commenting on something he hasn’t read.” Hart said an overarching theme of the report is that "low-priority projects are being funded at the expense of higher priority projects.”
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