After weeks of wrangling, House and Senate appropriators have reached agreement on a $397.4-billion omnibus spending package that funds all the federal non-defense agencies--and adds money to the Pentagon's budget--for the remainder of fiscal year 2003. Once it is enacted, the legislation would release billions of dollars of construction funding.

The conferees' agreement reached on Feb. 12, now must be approved by the full House and Senate and signed by President Bush. Non-defense agencies have been operating under a series of continuing funding resolutions since fiscal 2003 started last Oct. 1. Those "CRs" generally funded agencies at their 2002 budget levels.

After the measure is signed into law, it would relieve the uncertainty agencies and their contractors have had since last October about how much money will be available for fiscal 2003. Under the temporary funding bills, state highway agencies, for example, have been holding back on their contract lettings because they were unsure how much federal road-building aid they would receive.

For construction, the highlight of the conference agreement is its $31.8-billion allocation for the federal highway program, the amount the Senate requested and the level the industry was lobbying for. The House had recommended $27.7 billion.

Among other construction programs, State Dept. embassy security would receive $1.3 billion, the amount Bush requested. The Corps of Engineers' civil works program would get $4.6 billion, down $28 million from the 2002 mark. The Dept. of Energy's environmental cleanup account is allotted $7.44 billion, up $310 million from 2002. The measure also extends the Price-Anderson Act indemnification of nuclear plant contractors, but only until Dec. 31, 2003. The construction industry was hoping for a multi-year extension. The Federal Aviation Administration's Airport Improvement Program, which funds construction and security grants, would receive $3.4 billion, up $100 million from 2002.