Right before the August recess, Congress passed major transportation and energy bills. When lawmakers return after Labor Day, they will wrestle with other important legislation before they leave for the year. Unfinished items include fiscal 2006 appropriations and a Water Resources Development Act to authorize billions of dollars for Corps of Engineers projects. Spending bills are must-pass measures, but if Congress adjourns in November, WRDA and other bills may be held over until next year. Click here to view chart

So far, two 2006 appropriations bills have been enacted– Interior-environment and legislative branch. Five others have cleared the House and Senate, including those covering the Corps, Energy Dept. environmental cleanup and State Dept. embassy work. Construction’s results have been mixed, with water infrastructure cuts and encouraging transportation numbers, says Steve Hall, American Council of Engineering Companies’ vice president for government affairs. When appropriations action resumes in September, he says, "We still have some work to do."

The House and a Senate committee have cleared $12-billion WRDA bills. Industry hopes for enactment this year. Hall says there are potential hurdles but adds, "I think the issues can be resolved. It can get done this fall."

David R. Conrad, National Wildlife Federation senior water resources specialist, thinks WRDA will be enacted before the 109th Congress ends in 2006. "But there’s a much lower likelihood that it would be completed during calendar 2005," he says. WRDA will compete for Senate floor time with such other controversial matters as debate over Supreme Court nominee John Roberts, Conrad says. He thinks there may be some Senate opposition to authorizing new Mississippi River locks. But the projects have a forceful friend in Sen. Christopher Bond (R-Mo.).

Congress also faces a Dec. 31 deadline to extend the terrorism insurance backstop. Lawmakers await the military base closure commission’s recommendations by Sept. 8.The House passed bills to repeal the estate tax and let association member firms band together to get more affordable health-care insurance. But the Senate outlook is iffy for both measures.

By Tom Ichniowski, with Sherie Winston

Regulation: DOT Tries Again on Limit For Truckers’ Hours

The Dept. of Transportation on Aug.16 revised limits on truck drivers’ hours. DOT officials say the rule, effective Oct. 1, will improve safety. Critics say it’s nearly the same as a 2003 DOT rule that a federal court rejected last year.

The new rule bars truckers from driving more than 11 hours in a row, up from 10 now. It requires 10 hours off duty after a shift, up from eight, and says drivers may work no more than 70 hours in eight days. They would restart the weekly "clock" after 34 hours off.

Construction appears to have kept an exemption letting drivers reset on-duty time after 24 hours. Gerald Donaldson, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety senior research director, calls the rule worse than 2003’s. He says critics haven’t decided their next step.

Corps: Johnson Named Deputy Chief

The Pentagon has made a switch in a senior Corps of Engineers position, announcing Aug. 16 that Maj. Gen. Ronald L. Johnson would be the Corps’ new deputy chief. The Defense Dept. said it was shifting the previous designee as deputy chief, Maj. Gen. Thomas P. Bostick, to head the Army Recruiting Command. Johnson and Bostick are expected to assume their new posts in the fall.

Since last year Johnson, 51, has led the Army’s Installation Management Agency, but before that held key positions at the Corps. He commanded the Gulf Region Division in Iraq, was military programs director and headed the Pacific Ocean Division. Bostick, 48, led the Gulf division from 2004 until earlier this year, and headed military programs. Johnson will report to Lt. Gen. Carl Strock, who remains Chief of Engineers

Superfund: GAO Says EPA Could Improve Oversight
The Government Accountability Office says the Environmental Protection Agency could take more steps to make sure financially ailing firms meet requirements to pay for Superfund work. In an Aug. 17 report, GAO says EPA hasn’t used existing statutory authority to have companies dealing with hazardous substances show they can finance potential cleanups. EPA says it’s addressing those financial requirements and has made the topic a priority for its enforcement unit.

Compiled by Tom Ichniowski