The House of Representatives has approved nine of its 12 appropriations bills for fiscal year 2022 and delivered positive news for the construction industry, providing increased funding levels for nearly all major federal construction and infrastructure programs.
But the House actions are just one piece of a complicated infrastructure funding picture this year, chiefly because of the much-anticipated bipartisan infrastructure legislative package. That plan, on which a group of Senators and the White House agreed on July 28, would provide $550 billion above current levels for a range of infrastructure sectors.
Still, the actions on appropriations measures represent a positive step and give a signal from the House on its spending priorities.
Aboard the 'Mini-Bus'
Seven of the bills were combined into a mini-omnibus package the House passed July 29 by a 219-208 vote.
The chamber also approved separate bills covering State Dept. and foreign-operations programs and for legislative branch spending.
Each element of the “mini-bus” measure funds one or more U.S. agencies, including the Dept. of Transportation, Dept. of Veterans Affairs, Energy Dept., Environmental Protection Agency, Army Corps of Engineers civil works program and the Defense Dept.’s military construction activities.
Jeff Urbanchuk, an American Council of Engineering Companies spokesman, said in an interview, “Overall, we’re encouraged by the levels of funding here.”
Moreover, with the bipartisan package’s $550 billion in new funding and its multiyear surface transportation and water infrastructure authorizations, he adds, “Altogether, we’re looking at a significant investment in infrastructure.”
“Everything is trending upwards,” he said.
Whatever the final dimensions of a broader infrastructure package, they must still be reconciled with final appropriations legislation in the House and Senate.
The Senate is just beginning work on its versions of the 2022 spending measures. The Senate Appropriations Committee has scheduled a voting session for Aug. 4 on the first measure, notes Jimmy Christianson, the Associated General Contractors of America's vice president of government relations.
Since it's unlikely the Senate will approve all appropriations bills by the Oct. 1 start of the new fiscal year, a continuing resolution is expected to move through Congress to keep government running past Sept. 30, he said.
“This is all the opening salvo in a negotiation process," Christianson adds.
Highways, Transit, Airports
Highlights of the House-passed mini-bus include DOT programs. The important federal-aid highways obligation limit would jump 32%, to $61.1 billion.
The Federal Transit Administration’s total would rise 20%, to $15.5 billion, which includes nearly $2.5 billion—a 23% boost—for the FTA Capital Investment Grants account that assists new rail and bus transit project starts.
DOT's highly competitive RAISE discretionary grant program would get a 20% increase, to $1.2 billion. The program was called TIGER during the Obama administration, and then BUILD in the Trump administration.
The Federal Aviation Administration’s obligation ceiling for airport improvement program grants continues in a holding pattern at the $3.35-billion level of the past several years.
FAA also received a separate $400-million allotment for discretionary airport grants and projects.
Earmarks have returned for the 2022 appropriations round. For example, the Federal Highway Administration section of the mini-bus includes $427.5 million for such House member-requested “local transportation priorities.”
Corps Civil Works
Among non-transportation agencies, the House rejected President Joe Biden’s proposed 13% cut in Corps of Engineers civil works. Instead, the House bill would provide an 11% increase for the program, to $8.7 billion.
Within that total, however, the Corps new construction account would be pared by 4%, to $2.6 billion.
The largest civil works account, operation and maintenance (O&M), would receive a 25% increase, to $4.8 billion.
John Doyle, special counsel with law and lobbying firm Jones Walker LLP, said via email, “The bottom line is that the House Corps civil works numbers are very strong, especially the O&M account amount.”
Doyle, a former top Army civil works official, adds that within the construction account, inland waterways projects “had a very healthy ‘plus-up’ compared to the [Biden] budget request and still has room for being further increased, hopefully, in the Senate."
Water, Energy Infrastructure
For the EPA, the House bill would boost the agency's main water infrastructure program, State and Tribal Assistance, by 23%, to $5.3 billion.
That includes a 14% hike, to $1.9 billion, for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund, which helps finance wastewater-treatment projects.
The separate Drinking Water SRF would get a 21% increase, to $1.4 billion.
The Dept. of Energy defense environmental restoration program, which remediates former nuclear-weapons facilities, would get a 3% increase, to $6.6 billion.
Federal Buildings, Military Construction
Buildings-related programs fare well under the 2022 House appropriations measures.
At the General Services Administration, the federal buildings construction and acquisition account would more than double from this year’s level, to $617 million.
The largest allocation in that amount is $253.8 million for continued work on a long-running plan for a consolidated Dept. of Homeland Security campus in the District of Columbia.
AGC’s Christianson also points out the bipartisan infrastructure package calls for new land ports of entry—major border stations—for DHS. Those projects typically are managed by GSA.
Major projects at the VA—those valued at more than $20 million—would receive $1.6 billion under the House-passed legislation, up 22% from this year’s enacted total. The largest item on the VA project list is $150 million for a new health care center in El Paso, Texas.
The buildings side of military construction, which includes funding for barracks, military family housing and various types of infrastructure, would see its funding climb 35%, to $10.9 billion.