President Obama has proposed a $3.8-trillion budget for fiscal year 2011 that would freeze total "non-security" domestic discretionary spending--the category that includes most federal construction programs--and result in cutbacks in most of the key construction accounts.

Obama 2011 Budget Plan Would Cut Most Construction Programs
Photo: White House
Obama, with OMB Director Peter Orszag (left) and deputy director Rob Nabors, seeks freeze in "non-security" spending

Obama's proposal, transmitted to Congress on Feb. 1, does recommend boosting a few construction programs, including the federal-aid highway obligation ceiling.

It also proposes a new, $4-billion "National Infrastructure Innovation and Finance Fund," for transportation projects "of regional and national significance."

Administration officials have said that the discretionary freeze would not apply to the Depts. Of Defense, Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs as well as international affairs programs. They also said it would allow some increases for Obama's priority programs, and include some reductions.

The detailed budget appendix says that the new infrastructure fund would provide grants for transportation projects across all modes; or transportation components of non-transportation projects; or "transportation infrastructure that increases the environmental sustainability of the transportation network in a region."

The budget appendix assumes about $2.7 billion in obligations during 2011 for the infrastructure fund.

To be eligible for aid from the fund, a project's cost would "generally" have to be at least $25 million, the budget says. It adds that up to $150 million would go for projects' "planning, preparation and design" and $70 million for program administration.

Among energy programs, the budget increases spending for energy efficiency and renewables by $113 million, to a total of $2.4 billion and triples new loan authority for nuclear power facilities, to $54.5 billion.

The release of the voluminous budget marks only the beginning of months of debate and wrangling on Capitol Hill over federal spending for fiscal 2011, which begins Oct. 1, 2010.

One senior Democrat, House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey (Wisc.), made clear that lawmakers will take an active role in shaping the final 2011 spending numbers. Obey said, "While we may differ on details, our committee will meet the President�s target for appropriations. We will not exceed his requested level for appropriations; but we will also not exempt any department or activity from review, including foreign aid and the Pentagon, because none of them are without waste."

Republicans were critical of Obama's recommended blueprint. The House Budget Committee's ranking GOP member, Paul Ryan (Wisc.), said Obama's proposal "is nothing more than a plan for more of the same--a very aggressive agenda of more government spending, more taxes, more deficits, and more debt � with just a few cosmetic budget maneuvers to give the illusion of restraint."

Here are the amounts the Obama 2011 budget proposes for selected construction accounts:

Funding is in millions of dollars
Program FY10 FY11 % change
Federal-aid highway obligation limit 41,107 41,363 +1
Federal Transit Administration 10,731 10,800 +1
High-speed rail 2,500 1,000 -60
FAA Airport Improvement Program grants 3,515 3,515 0
EPA Water infrastructure 4,970 4,782 -4
Incl. Clean Water SRF 2,100 2,000 -5
Incl. Drinking Water SRF 1,387 1,287 -7
Corps of Engineers civil works 5,445 4,881 -10
Incl. construction 2,031 1,690 -17
DOE environmental cleanup 5,642 5,563 -1
Bureau of Reclamation water/related resources 951 914 -4
National Park Service construction 233 195 -16
DOD family housing construction 489 356 -27
DOD base realignment and closure 7,952 2,714 -66
DOD other military construction 13,695 13,951 +2
GSA construction 894 676 -24
GSA repairs and alterations 414 703 +70
State Dept. embassy security, Construction and maintenance 877 857 -2
Bureau of Prisons buildings and facilities 99 270 +173
VA major construction 1,194 1,151 -4
VA minor construction 703 468 -33
Note: Numbers are rounded
Source: Senate, House Appropriations Committees; Office of Management and Budget