The construction industry sees much to like in newly approved legislation that sets final fiscal year 2019 spending levels for Army Corps of Engineers civil works program and for military construction and Dept. of Veterans Affairs projects.
The legislation, which gained final congressional approval with the House's 377-20 vote on Sept. 13, has exceptionally strong results for VA construction and modest year-over-year increases for Corps civil-works and Dept. of Defense construction.
Industry officials were pleased to see Congress clear the spending bill before the Oct. 1 start of the fiscal year—a rare event in recent years.
Jordan Howard, director of the Associated General Contractors of America's federal and heavy construction division, says, "AGC firmly believes that passing 'approps' bills on time, in an orderly fashion, helps both federal agencies and federal construction contractors with … the financial operational planning that's necessary to execute our nation's infrastructure projects."
For VA, the measure more than doubles funding for major facilities projects—those valued at $10 million or more—to $1.1 billion. The legislation also boosts the minor projects account by 87%, to $303 million.
In addition, congressional appropriators included a further $2 billion special infrastructure infusion, of which $800 million would go for "non-recurring maintenance" work on VA health-care buildings and $750 million for seismic improvements to VA facilities.
The package also provides $10.1 billion for military construction, such as barracks and housing for military families, up 2% from 2018.
That year-over-year comparison excludes $921 million approved for 2018 for emergency spending, such as for post-hurricane repairs.
Industry officials also are happy about the bill's increase for Corps civil works, which will receive a record amount of just under $7 billion for 2019, up 3% from 2018.
John Doyle, special counsel with law and lobbying firm Jones Walker LLP, says, "On a scale of 10, it was an 11." He adds, "It's just a very, very strong bill."
Of the $7-billion total, the Corps civil-works construction account would rise 5%, to $2.2 billion, and the operations and maintenance account would climb 3%, to $3.7 billion.
Industry officials also point to language in the bill preventing the Trump administration from pursuing its proposal to shift the Corps' civil works activities out of DOD and over to the Interior Dept. and Environmental Protection Agency.
The measure bars any fiscal 2019 funding for such a reorganization, effectively sinking the idea for the year.
Mike Strachn, a senior adviser with water-resources consulting firm Dawson & Associates, says, "It's an absolute prohibition," which blocks the reorganization at least through Sept. 30, 2019.
The legislation also increases for the Dept. of Energy's defense environmental cleanup program, but by less than 1%, to $6 billion
House and Senate negotiators also have agreed on a final 2019 appropriations bill for DOD nonconstruction programs and for the Dept. of Health and Human Services. The next steps for that measure are Senate and House floor votes.
The other seven individual annual appropriations measures may have to wait until after the Nov. 6 elections. The DOD-HHS bill includes a stopgap measure to keep other agencies open past the Oct. 1 start of fiscal 2019, until Dec. 7—unless Congress settles on final figures before that.
Among the construction programs that fall under the stopgap are those at the Dept. of Transportation, such as federal-aid highways, and Environmental Protection Agency aid for wastewater-treatment and drinking-water revolving funds.