The Senate has passed HR 5895 – Energy and Water, Legislative Branch, and Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Act, 2019
As you can see from the title, this is a bundled appropriations bill – called a ‘minibus’ – that together account for three of the 12 appropriations Acts Congress is supposed to pass before the start of Fiscal ’19 on October 1st. Since the House and Senate have passed different versions of this bill, the next step is for them to resolve their differences. Staff for the two appropriations committees are working on that now. Frankly, it’s amazing that Congress is on the verge of passing any appropriations bill before Labor Day.
The President’s budget request included $4.8 billion for the Army Corps Civil Works Program, whereas the House and Senate both support more. The amendments made by the Senate $6.914 billion are lower than the House’s appropriations of $7.28 billion. The Senate’s appropriations are as follows:
While the additional $2.114 billion from the Senate and House is substantial, this is all part of a game where this and past administrations have low-balled the Corps’ budget knowing that Congress will add funds whose allocation to specific projects and studies is largely in the hands of the Administration. Instead of having to compete with energy to add over a billion dollars to the President’s mark, all water resources would benefit from starting at a level that is more reasonable. Complaints from Congress about the Corps’ construction backlog should be directed to Congress, not the Corps. Instead, Congress adds provisions to legislation addressing the backlog problem with words and not dollars. This bill is no different. It contains a provision that requires the Secretary to submit a report to Congress that describes the history of the Corps of Engineers funding requests and the actual appropriations for the last 10 fiscal years for the flood and coastal storm damage reduction business line. The report is also supposed to include “an analysis of the changes in the comparative funding for coastal and inland projects” and “an explanation for the discrepancy in funding between coastal and inlet projects”, and recommendations to correct this discrepancy” in funding. While the measly amount of money going to the coast (see below) is in need of a major plus-up, this is no time to pit coastal vs. inland water resources interests in the competition for scarce money because the report won’t show what Districts and Divisions requested versus what OMB allowed (see below).
For the coast, let’s look at the numbers. The President requested only $37.5 million. The House upped that to $136.2 million while the Senate sliced that figure by about 12 percent to $119.8 million. You can build a single civilian airplane for any one of those totals, although it would have to be a very small one if you only had the President’s allocation. Those numbers are comparable to the final Corps Work Plan for FY18: $125.4 million.
What’s interesting is that the 12 percent reduction the Senate made to coastal versus the House compares to only a 2 percent reduction in operations and maintenance for navigations and Mississippi River and Tributaries accounts, and the 4 percent reduction for the investigations account. The usual response from Congress is that “we gave them almost all of what they asked for,” but the “they” is OMB. That’s the problem with the “discrepancy” report cited above.
The Senate bill allows six new study starts (at least two of which are for flood and storm damage reduction) and six new construction starts (at least for flood and storm damage reduction). The bill also adds a provision requiring the Corps to report any excess funds supplied by a non-Federal sponsor that have not been returned even though the project is complete.
For additional information click here to see our chart of coastal appropriations for FY19. The final bill can be found here, and the all-important committee report explaining its bill and providing a list of projects and programs funded is here. Be sure to remember that Congress cannot earmark funding for any specific study or construction that is not included in the President’s budget. Instead, it adds “Additional Funding” for Investigations, Construction and Operation & Maintenance. You can find those amounts towards the end of the tables for each account.