Recently approved fiscal 2006 appropriations bills show uneven results for federal buildings accounts, with hikes for some programs and cuts in others. But those figures may not be final. If Congress shifts Federal Emergency Management Agency funds to rebuild hurricane-damaged Gulf Coast infrastructure, it could mean an infusion for military and veterans’ facilities. But there also is talk in Congress about a small cut in many 2006 discretionary accounts.

At this point, 2006 gains for buildings programs seem to outweigh reductions, but most of the increases come from the boost for the Dept. of Defense’s new base realignment and closure round, says Karen Bachman, Associated General Contractors’ government affairs director for environment, federal markets and procurement. Even with 2006’s mixed picture, "We see the federal [buildings] market expanding a substantial amount," says Larry Bory, vice president for federal government relations at HDR.

How Facilities Programs Will Fare for 2006
(millions of $)
DOD family housing construction
DOD base realignment/closure
DOD other military construction
State Dept. embassies, security,
construction and maintenance
GSA facilities construction and acquisition
GSA repairs and alterations
VA major construction
Bureau of Prisons buildings and facilities
*includes $1.28 billion in emergency appropriations
** includes $592 million in emergency appropriations
Sources: House, Senate Appropriations Committees, ENR

"A lot of defense-focused programs have increased," AGC’s Bachman says. Adds Bory: "We see BRAC as the engine that’s going to continue to drive that, plus security upgrades at existing facilities."

The 2006 military construction bill also has large sums for barracks, including $160 million at Fort Bragg, N.C., and $117 million at Fort Campbell, Ky. Other big items are a $67-million intelligence center at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., and $57 million for phase II of a Fort Belvoir, Va., hospital replacement.

The main Dept. of Veterans Affairs construction effort is a multi-year, medical network overhaul, to match VA facilities more closely with where veterans live and the kind of health care they need.

The General Services Administration’s 2006 construction allotment includes $231 million for a San Diego courthouse, $212 million for five border stations and, in an unusual move, $67 million for materials cost hikes at seven projects.

Congress also is weighing a White House request to move $17 billion in unspent FEMA funds to other agencies for Gulf Coast repairs. The plan includes some $1.5 billion for DOD posts in the region and $1.1 billion for VA buildings in Biloxi, Miss., and New Orleans.

Trade: U.S.-Canada Softwood Lumber Dispute Continues
The U.S.-Canada trade fight over softwood lumber is still simmering. The U.S. Commerce Dept. Nov. 22 said it would follow a North American Free Trade Agreement panel’s instructions and trim duties on lumber imports from Canada. The countervailing duties would be cut to 0.8%, from 16.37% now.

But the Coalition for Fair Lumber Imports, a U.S. industry group, probably will challenge the outcome, says Harry Clark, the coalition’s outside attorney. Commerce also says it is considering challenging the panel’s instructions.

Canada’s government on Nov. 24 announced a $1.3-billion aid package for its forest products industry. That drew criticism from U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman and Commerce Secretary Carlos M. Gutierrez.

Superfund: FY 2005 Spending Increases
Spending on Superfund construction, post-construction and emergency response rose 3% in fiscal 2005, to $524 million, the Environmental Protection Agency says. However, sums obligated for new construction projects fell 48%.

In a Nov. 22 report, EPA says it obligated $70 million in 2005 from federal, state and private funds for 17 new construction projects. In 2004 it obligated $104 million for 27 new projects. EPA got $1.1 billion in 2005 private-sector commitments to fund future cleanup and reimburse it for costs incurred. The 2004 total was $680 million.

"There are still huge challenges for this program," says Ed Hopkins, Sierra Club environmental quality program director. He says federal Superfund appropriations declined 33% from 1993 to 2003, adjusted for inflation, and contends that a stable funding source is needed.

Immigration: Bush Stumps for Multi-Pronged Plan
President Bush has resumed an appeal for an immigration plan that would tighten border security but also allow "temporary workers." In Nov. 28-29 visits to Arizona and Texas, Bush advocated more enforcement, including broader use of repatriating immigrants to their home towns and expediting their removal as well as expanding detention facilities. He also favors letting foreign workers get temporary legal status, but opposes "an automatic path to citizenship" and amnesty for illegal immigrants.