Supreme Court Spotlight: Shortly before the Supreme Court opened its new session on Oct. 3, with John Roberts as its new Chief Justice, President Bush heightened the focus on the court, announcing he would nominate White House Counsel Harriet Miers to succeed Sandra Day O'Connor as an Associate Justice.

Bush announces nomination of White House Counsel Miers to Supreme Court (White House photo by Paul Morse)

In announcing his choice, Bush said Miers "has devoted her life to the rule of law and the cause of justice." She is a former member of the Dallas City Council and president of the State Bar of Texas. Bush said that Miers "will strictly interpret our Constitution and laws" but would not legislate from the bench.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) would not commit to a specific timetable for considering Miers' nomination. He told reporters Oct. 3 that he would try to accommodate Majority Leader Bill Frist's desire to finish consideration by Thanksgiving, but Specter added, "not at the expense of being thorough." He also said, "I would not expect it to go into the new year."

Roberts was sworn in to his new post on Sept. 29, shortly after the Senate confirmed him by a vote of 78-22.

Hurricane Aftermath: House appropriators will get an update Oct. 6 from DOT Secretary Norman Mineta about the status of road, bridge, port and airport rebuilding in the Gulf Coast. Industry officials are keeping alert for the next federal reconstruction aid request from the White House, which could include more infrastructure-related funding. That request is expected in late October. It follows two emergency supplemental spending measures totaling $62.3 billion, most of which went to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. FEMA then parceled out funding to the Army Corps of Engineers and other agencies that are carrying out debris removal and other "assignments" FEMA had issued.

Last week House appropriations subcommittees heard from Dept. of Defense and Corps officials about their post-hurricane activities. The Corps' Chief of Engineers, Lt. Gen. Carl Strock, said rebuilding New Orleans levees to their pre-Katrina strength--Level 3 hurricanes---would cost about $1.6 billion. DOT has estimated Gulf Coast highway and bridge rebuilding costs at $2.5 billion.

Following the Money: Floor action is expected this week in the House and perhaps the Senate on final appropriations numbers for the Dept. of Homeland Security. House and Senate conferees reached agreement Sept. 28 on a 2006 spending bill for DHS that totals $30.8 billion in discretionary spending. But the bill's allocations for ports, transit and rail fell short of what industry groups had sought.

Stopgap: Federal agencies were open for business Oct. 3, the first full working day of fiscal year 2006, thanks to a stopgap spending bill that Congress passed last week and President Bush signed into law on Sept. 30, the last day of fiscal 2005. The continuing resolution keeps funds flowing through Nov. 18, giving Congress more time to finish the remaining uncompleted 2006 appropriations bills.

Only two of those individual spending measures have been enacted so far, the Interior Dept.-environment and legislative branch bills.

In recent years,"CR's" have been familiar to construction industry officials trying to monitor how much money key federal programs will receive. The new one would set funding for agency accounts at the fiscal 2005 level, or the amount provided in the House- or Senate-passed 2006 appropriations bills--whichever amount is lowest. It covers such important construction accounts as those at the Dept. of Transportation, Corps of Engineers, General Services Administration and Dept. of Defense. .

Want Ads: A couple of important federal construction posts remain vacant. At the Federal Highway Administration, there's been no announcement yet about who will be the agency's administrator, to replace Mary Peters, who left in July. Deputy Administrator Rick Capka is acting administrator. At the General Services Administration, there's no news yet about the agency's chief architect's position, which opened up when Ed Feiner retired at the end of January. Les Shepherd is acting chief architect.