As the House’s July 4 recess draws near, the chamber’s Appropriations Committee has pushed through many of the bills to set fiscal year 2023 spending levels for federal agencies. Results so far include recommended increases in many major construction programs.
The Appropriations Committee as of June 26 had cleared six of the 12 separate appropriations measures that each provide 2023 funding for one or more federal agencies.
The other six bills have made it through subcommittee and are in line for full committee votes before July 1. House floor votes would be the next steps for the measures, after the congressional break.
Military Construction Fares Well
Military construction programs' budgets would continue their climb under a measure that House appropriators approved on June 23.
The bill recommends $15 billion for military construction and family housing, up 10% from the enacted 2022 level.
The bill also covers funding for Dept. of Veterans Affairs programs and would pare VA major projects funding by 15%, but to a still-substantial $1.4 billion. Major projects are those totaling more than $20 million.
VA's minor projects account fared better, with a 13% gain, to $626 million.
The largest single VA major-project allocation is $550 million for a new hospital in El Paso, Texas. Another big-ticket item is $129 million for a new outpatient clinic and cemetery in Alameda, Calif.
Big Boost for GSA Construction
In another bill that affects buildings-related programs, the committee on June 24 cleared legislation that would more than triple the General Services Administration’s construction and acquisition account in 2023, to $962 million.
The largest item is $500 million for a new Federal Bureau of Investigation headquarters on a yet-to-be-selected site in the “National Capital Region,” as the bill’s report phrases it.
Also in the bill's GSA total is $370 million to continue what has been a long program to consolidate offices of the Dept. of Homeland Security and its key components at the St Elizabeths Hospital site in the District of Columbia's Southeast sector.
GSA’s repairs and alterations account also did well, with a 68% boost, to $975 million. The largest renovation project allotment is $84 million for the James A. Byrne Federal Courthouse in Philadelphia.
Among other appropriations measures, the panel's bill funding the Agriculture Dept., which the committee approved on June 23, includes $515 million for rural water and waste disposal grants, up 5% from 2022.
But Agriculture's rural community facilities loans and grants program was trimmed 18%, to $195 million.
Corps Civil Works in Line for Boost
The House panel on June 28 approved on a spending bill for energy and water resources programs. Construction companies, especially those in heavy construction, will pay particular attention to that measure's funding for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers civil works program.
House appropriators are recommending $8.9 billion for Corps civil works, which includes projects to build river locks and dams, bolster communities defenses against hurricanes, dredge harbors, restore ecosystems, and replenish coastal beaches.
"Overall it's a strong bill for the civil works program," says John Doyle, special counsel with law and lobbying firm Jones Walker LLP.
The $8.9-billion total represents a 7% increase over the 2022 enacted level, and an increase of $2.3 billion, or 35%, compared with the amount President Joe Biden had sought in his 2023 budget request.
Doyle, a former senior Army civil works official, said in an interview. "That tends to be the pattern. The administration—no matter what the party—comes in lowball."
Then he says, Congress "improves significantly" on what the administration has proposed.
Within the $8.9 billion total, the Corps construction account would be trimmed slightly—by less than 1%—to $2.5 billion.
Doyle says that though the bill has strong construction funding levels for coastal projects, the amount for inland waterway projects—river locks and dams—is "terribly disappointing," at $88.6 million.
Only two inland waterway projects would receive funding, under the committee's bill: Chickamauga Lock on the Tennessee River, with a $39.3-million allocation, and upgrades to facilities on the Upper Mississippi River and Illinois Waterway System, with a $59.3-million allotment.
But the largest Corps civil works account—operation and maintenance spending did better, with an increase of $580 million, or 13%, to $5.2 billion.
The same measure also includes funding for the Interior Dept.'s Bureau of Reclamation. The bill freezes Reclamation's water and related resources program, at $1.7 billion.
Also included in the bill are recommended funding levels for many Dept. of Energy programs. One of DOE's largest construction accounts, defense environmental cleanup, would increase by just $13 million, or less than 1%, to $6.7 billion. The account funds major remediations of former U.S. nuclear weapons production facilities at locations such as the Hanford site in Washington state.
EPA, DOT Fare Well
Looking further ahead, House appropriators on June 29 will take up its bill funding Interior Dept. and Environmental Protection Agency programs. The version that moved through subcommittee on June 21 allocates $11.5 billion for EPA, up $2 billion from 2022 enacted levels.
Within that total, EPA water infrastructure programs would be major beneficiaries, receiving $5.2 billion. That includes $2.9 billion for the clean water and drinking water state revolving fund loan programs, up $113 million from 2022.
The measure also continues to beef up EPA's Superfund program, providing $1.3 billion for 2023, up $81 million from 2022.
Many construction officials will be eyeing the House committee's June 30 voting session on its bill that funds the Depts. of Transportation and Housing and Urban Development, particularly the measure's DOT numbers.
The version that cleared subcommittee on June 23 includes $59.5 billion for the federal-aid highway obligation limit, up $2 billion, or 4%, from the 2022 figure.
DOT's Federal Transit Administration would see a 34% increase for its Capital Investment Grants. That program funds new transit starts.
Solid Progress in House, But a Long Road Ahead
The House committee's late June burst of votes, though definitely a step forward, is only an early chapter of what will almost certainly be another long appropriations story this year.
Still to come is movement in the Senate, whose Appropriations Committee did not advance any of its dozen fiscal 2023 spending bills even through subcommittee by June 24, when lawmakers there left for their July 4 break.
In recent years, Congress has been unable to pass appropriations measures before the Oct. 1 start of the fiscal year, prompting lawmakers to fall back on short-term stopgaps, or continuing resolutions, to avert government shutdowns.
The tight legislative schedule this summer and fall, squeezed by the Nov. 8 elections and pre-election campaigning, would seem to make another continuing resolution a likely bet again this year.
Doyle says he is predicting "a CR at the end of September that will carry things over until after the election."
The article was updated on 6/28/2022 with details of the Appropriations Committee approval of energy and water programs spending bill.