5 Steps So You Can Prepare for the FY20 Corps Budget
The President will be releasing his detailed proposal for the Corps’ budget during the week of March 18th – maybe. His overarching budget proposal was released on March 11th and it landed with a thud. A 31% cut, amounting to $2.2 billion, compared to the current fiscal year. The detailed budget will have the short list of names of projects and programs Trump wants to see funded. Oftentimes people don’t know where to look for the detailed budget or what to look for. At Coastal Strategies, we’ve got your back.
Did you know that the President earmarks the Corps’ budget? I bet you thought that earmarks had been banned. Congress made the mistake a decade ago, of banning itself from any earmarks, but that ban doesn’t apply to the President. He continues to have full reign to earmark those Corps projects and programs he wants to fund. Congress can approve, decrease, deny funding to any of his earmarks, but it can’t add funding that is directed to any other project or program.
So, does it mean death when you see the President has proposed a Corps budget that doesn’t include your favorite project? No. What comes out on March 18th or 25th is just the start of the congressional budget process. The responsibility for funding the Federal government rests on Congress. Tragically, Congress has to do that with one hand tied tightly behind its back because it can’t earmark. Nevertheless, your elected officials are not powerless, and neither are you.
I’ve written before about the need for Congress to take any and all authorized Corps projects, studies and programs out of the earmark ban. They’ve all been fully vetted by the process-heavy and review-oriented Corps. Rep, Nita Lowey, Chair of the House Appropriations Committee wants to get rid of earmarks, but in a letter to her colleagues last month, she said she hadn’t yet reached bipartisan consensus to bring them back. To Members of Congress and Congressional Staffers who read this post: Please focus on bringing back earmarks for the Corps so the Corps’ program is no longer being castrated by OMB. For the WaterLog poll on earmarks as well as my previous blog calling for an end to their ban, go here. You can still vote!
So - How can you get prepared to find, understand and act on the President’s budget when it comes out?
Step 1: Track when the detailed budget comes out. You can do this by subscribing to WaterLog, because we’ll send an alert to all subscribers. Otherwise, bookmark this page on the Corps’ website, look for the item called “Program Budget – Press Book”, and keep refreshing the page until you see FY 2020 report now available.”
Step 2: Download the FY20 Press Book when it becomes available, turn to your state’s page as noted in the table of contents, and look for your project. Here’s a snippet from a previous year’s book:
Step 3: If your project is in this book, it’s been earmarked by the President. Congress can reject the earmark, or it can change the dollar figure. If your project isn’t in this book, then you’ve got a steep hill to climb.
How steep? Not so steep you can’t climb it. Plus, you’ve got a lot of company. For the current fiscal year, the President proposed a total Corps budget of $4.785 billion, but Congress eventually provided $6.999 billion. Where did that additional money go? Congress provides additional pots of money for the various Corps funding accounts, including investigations, construction, and operation & maintenance. It even subdivides those pots. For example, there are separate pots of investigations and construction money for “shore protection,” which is what Congress calls beach nourishment projects.
That’s about as close as Congress can get to telling the folks at the Corps, the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Civil Works, and, most importantly, the White House Office of Management and Budget what its priorities are. It’s up to that triumvirate - with an emphasis on just two or three OMB bureaucrats – to decide what additional projects get funded. Nevertheless, the reality is that, (a) they have to add projects, and (b) one of them could be yours.
Step 4: If your project is not among the President’s earmarks and since Congress can’t earmark funds for your project, what’s a concerned citizen to do? Answer: Develop plans for getting into the Final Corps Work Plan that contains the list of projects proposed by the President and also those added through the pots of additional funds provided by Congress. It’s released about 90 days after Congress passes the Energy & Water Development Appropriations Bill.
Working with local governments to develop an advocacy strategy is what our sister company, Warwick Group Consultants, does. We’ve been tracking beach nourishment project and programmatic appropriations since 1996. This chart shows strong support from Congress for funding this category of projects.
For FY19, the President asked for a measly $37.5 million and Congress provided a major boost to $175.3 million. That’s the largest amount we’ve seen over more than two decades, albeit still badly underfunding even the completion of existing feasibility studies and proposed new project construction.
The bottom line is that individual citizens, local and state governments, and even congressional offices can use the release of the President’s detailed budget for the Corps to start advocating for the money needed to fund all those projects not included in the President’s proposal. In fact, most congressional offices are currently seeking input from constituents about needed Corps studies, projects and programs. Contact your elected Representative and Senators office to today to find out how you can advocate for your project because it may be too late to meet congressional deadlines if you wait for the detailed budget to be released later this month.
For the congressional staffers who are WaterLog subscribers, you can advocate to Corps Headquarters, the Assistant Secretary and to the nearly impervious wall of middle level bureaucrats at OMB on behalf of your high priority projects that didn’t make it onto the President’s list. If your office doesn’t, remember there are other congressional offices that aren’t hesitating.
Step 5: One more critical tip that you won’t read anywhere else: Once the House and Senate each passes its version of the Energy & Water Development Appropriations bill, don’t look for the bill. It doesn’t contain any information about the studies and projects funded. Get the committee’s “report”. If you want to know more or have any comments, I would like to hear from you. Please email me at email@example.com.