A month ago, I bemoaned March as the month of now Federal holidays. But at its very end, it gave us Passover and the start of the baseball season. Then came Easter as we embarked on April and out came some flowers, still not any more sure than humans whether Spring had arrived here in the Mid-Atlantic. For those of you who provided advice to me on my trip to Philadelphia with my twin grandsons, thank you! It was a wonderful time. What was best is the journey and the time we spent together. They were wonderful to be with.
I’ve had my own business since 1984. A K Street lobbyist whose office has always had a K Street address but only an alley view! April 2nd marked a milestone. I’ve made it. A K Street lobbyist with a K Street view! Here’s the view from my window (gray skies and all)
Kind of blows you away, doesn’t it? Okay. I understand. Different strokes for different folks.
March brought parts of the East Coast some wicked weather – like 4 nor’easters. Check out this short video. I visited Plum Island, MA a couple of weekends ago and saw some very serious erosion, particularly on the north and south ends. Nor’easters aren’t tropical storms but they are very strong and they sit over an area with strong winds that cause serious damage. If you have any photos you want to share of erosion, please send them along. I posted a blog written by Dr. Thomas Herrington of Monmouth University that you should have received last night. If not, here’s the link. It talks about how these March Nor’easters compare with those in previous years.
Here’s a link explaining the so-far dormant White House Infrastructure Package. I just can’t see this moving this year, except perhaps a piece trying to streamline or reduce regulatory waiting times to get projects started.
Forget about an infrastructure bill. We need a Department of Infrastructure. That’s the title of an article on the Forbes website. Here’s an excerpt:
What is perhaps more unforgivable and more detrimental to the future of U.S. infrastructure, however, is the fragmentation and redundancy in the Executive Branch. Infrastructural concerns cut across numerous cabinet departments, including the Department of Transportation, the Department of Energy, the Department of Interior, the Army Corps of Engineers, the Environmental Protection Agency and to a lesser degree the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Commerce and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The overlap and potential synergies between and within some of these agencies is glaring.
The Department of Interior (DOI) has a Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, a Bureau of Land Management and a Bureau of Reclamation. It also houses the United States Geological Survey (USGS), which has programs addressing land use, energy and minerals and environmental health. The Department of Energy (DOE) has an Office of Environmental Management and an Office of Legacy Management to manage hazardous waste from World War II and the Cold War while the Army Corps of Engineers, housed in the Department of Defense, has its own Deactivated Nuclear Power Plant Program. Then there’s the independent Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) whose mission is to “protect people and the environment.” The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), whose mission is to “protect human health and the environment,” has Offices of Land and Emergency Management, Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention and Air and Radiation. On top of all that, the Department of Transportation (DOT) has the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. At the same time, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which is responsible for responding to the types of disasters these other offices seek to prevent, is housed within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
Whatever happened to an old-fashioned Public Works Department?
Funding Frenzy: In February, Congress passed a supplemental appropriation that provided a chunk of change for disasters. Then they passed a budget for the remainder of the fiscal year (through Sept. 30th). Here are some nuggets from these measures:
- $8 billion for FEMA;s Disaster Relief Fund; that’s above the $135 billion already provided in 3 previous disaster relief bills in 2017.
- $249 for FEMA’s pre-disaster mitigation program, up $149 million over the previous year.
- For the Corps, the supplemental contained three times the Corps normal annual budget! Headquarters and Assistant Secretary personnel are scrambling to set guidelines (other agencies call these regulations) and then allocate the funding. At this writing, the guidelines are being reviewed in the Assistant Secretary’s office. They’ll be in communication with the friendly folks at the White House Office of Management and Budget. Before you know it, we’ll be in the 2018 hurricane and flooding seasons, which won’t be eligible for most of these funds because Congress made them storm-specific.
- For regular FY18 appropriations, Congress provided about 14% more than the President requested. Overall, Congress provided far more funding than Mr. Trump requested for all federal agencies. You’d think that if they were going to do this, it would have been better to get it done last Nov-Dec than wait until the fiscal year was half over. Guaranteed, more drama as October 1 and the FY19 fiscal year approaches. There’s no way Congress can pass a budget by then.
- Not only did Congress far outspend the President’s budget request, they exceeded their own brand-new spending caps by $110 billion. Some of that excess comes from disaster relief spending that’s not subject to the caps. But most comes from some budgetary gimmicks. Even more interesting, Congress prohibited from moving any of the funds around so he could spend for things in his budget proposal that were not included in the final congressional budget.
- Now the Corps wonks, here’s some language from the appropriations report that may be of interest….
- “Administration budget metrics shall not be a reason to disqualify a study or project from being funded.”
- To be eligible for the Additional Funding provided above the President’s earmarks, the study or project must have received appropriated funds in the previous 3 fiscal years or reach a ‘significant milestone” with FYT18 funds. [I think the “or” was intended to be an “and”.]
- The Work Plan is due out in less than 60 days. It’s supposed to include not only the projects that got fund but also those that didn’t with an explanation of why they didn’t.
- There are 6 new Investigations allowed and 5 new construction starts
- Of the 6 investigation new starts, one is for flood and storm damage reduction, two for navigation OR storm damage reduction, one for environmental restoration, and two for navigation.
- Of the 5 construction new starts, one is for navigation, one is for flood and storm damage reduction, two are for navigation or flood and storm damage reduction “of which one shall be for coastal storm damage reduction”, and one is for environmental restoration.
- “No new start or new investment decision shall be required when moving from feasibility to preconstruction engineering and design (PED).
- Congress declares that it has provided “sufficient additional funding to undertake a significant amount of feasibility and POED work.”
- “The Administration is reminded that a project study is not complete until the PED phase is complete.”
- Under Additional Funding for Construction, here’s something new. Congress wants the Corps to allocate “not less than $2.85 million to projects with riverfront development components” and another $5.4 million in additional nonstructural flood control projects.” Can any reader enlighten me what projects Congress has in mind?
- Add on to these so-called non-earmarks is a requirement that another $1 million has to be allocated to hurricane and storm damage reduction and environmental restoration with both structural and nonstructural project elements.”
Flood Insurance: Taking a page straight out of the 2017-18 congressional playbook, the NFIP has been extended through the end of July. Congress knows the program needs to be reformed but can’t seem to make it a priority to reach agreement on what needs to be done. So, another can kicked down the dead end road. FYI: August marks the annual congressional summer recess, so you can look forward to another sacrificial can being kicked not once but probably twice more before the end of 2018. Prediction: Santa Claus is going to bring a lot of that new coal to Congress this December.
That’s it from The K Street Swamp for this week. I ought to know. I’m looking right at it!!