Short-term stopgap spending bills have become commonplace on Capitol Hill, making planning difficult for those who manage federal construction programs and companies that pursue those projects. But government and industry officials now know how much funding they will have to deal with through the end of fiscal 2009, thanks to a newly enacted $410-billion omnibus spending bill. With critics highlighting the package’s estimated $7.7 billion in earmarked funds for specific projects, House Democrats have put in place new requirements on earmarking.

The legislation, which President Obama signed on March 11, merges the nine uncompleted 2009 appropriations bills and funds most major construction accounts, including those at the Transportation and Energy Depts., General Services Administration and Environmental Protection Agency. The Associated General Contractors calculates the omnibus has $121.9 billion for construction programs, up 5% from $115.6 billion in 2008. “The construction numbers are pretty strong for 2009 in the ‘omni,’ which is a nice trend,” says Jeffrey D. Shoaf, AGC’s senior executive director for government and public affairs.

Appropriators boosted some construction programs from 2008 levels but trimmed others. Winners include GSA’s construction and acquisition account, which gets $746 million, more than double its 2008 level, and the Bureau of Prisons’ buildings and facilities program. which was increased 54%, to $576 million.

  • $121.9 billion for construction programs, up from $115.6 billion in FY08.
  • Funds construction accounts at most federal agencies , including DOT, DOE, Interior, EPA, GSA, through Sept. 30.
  • Winners include GSA construction, up 144%; federal prison buildings, up 54%.
  • Programs cut include GSA renovations, down 4%; highway obligation limit, down 1%.

Programs that were cut include GSA’s repairs and alterations program, which was pared 4%, to $692 million. The federal-aid highways obligation limit was sliced 1%, to $40.7 billion. Last year’s total included a one-time $1-billion allocation for bridge improvements nationwide. Agencies funded by the omnibus have operated since last October under a stopgap measure, generally at 2008 spending levels.

Obama, who has advocated reducing the number of earmarks, said, “I am signing an imperfect omnibus bill because it’s necessary for the ongoing functions of government, and we have a lot more work to do....But I also view this as a departure point for more far-reaching change.”

The day the bill was signed, House Democratic leaders announced new earmark requirements. They include giving federal agencies 20 days to review a proposed earmarked project to determine whether it is eligible to get funds and meets statutory goals.

Agencies also will have to make sure a contract for a project earmarked for a for-profit entity will be awarded by competitive bidding. Obama said the House Democrats’ earmark restrictions “hold great promise.”