But partisan fights continued to rage over federal spending, and Congress again failed to pass full-year appropriations bills. Instead, lawmakers ">cleared a stopgap spending measure that will keep construction programs and other federal activities running through March 27, which is about the midpoint of fiscal year 2013.

But as the year neared its end, Obama and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) were busy with negotiations aimed at avoiding the so-called ">fiscal cliff—that is, the tax hikes and mandatory spending cuts slated to take effect at the start of 2013, unless Congress acts to undo them. At ENR press time, the high-level, high-stakes talks continued, but the outcome was unclear.

Agencies: New leaders at GSA, Corps, NRC
Among the agencies, a scandal erupted at the General Services Administration in April after an inspector general’s report disclosed “excessive spending” at a 2010 conference near Las Vegas sponsored by GSA’s Public Buildings Service (PBS). After the news broke, GSA Administrator Martha Johnson dismissed PBS Commissioner Robert Peck and another agency official and then announced her own resignation. Peck has said he was not personally involved in planning or approving the conference but said the high costs "should never have been incurred." Johnson ">said that she had not been aware of the scope of the conference and that she was "extremely aggrieved by the gall" of those involved to waste taxpayers' dollars and "defile the great name of GSA."  In September, GSA announced a new PBS commissioner, ">Dorothy Robyn, the Dept. of Defense deputy undersecretary for installations and environment.

A change also came in May at the top of the Army Corps of Engineers, where Lt. Gen. Thomas A. Bostick became the Army’s 53rd chief of engineers. One item on ">">his agenda is to streamline civil-works project studies. Bostick also was on the scene in New York in late October when Superstorm Sandy struck.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission got a new chairwoman, ">">Allison Macfarlane, a geologist and specialist in nuclear-waste issues, who assumed her new post on July 9. She replaced Gregory Jaczko, who had been criticized in 2011 by other NRC commissioners for his “leadership and management practices.” Jaczko has said he is passionate about nuclear safety, but denied allegations that he bullied staffers at the NRC or held back information from other commissioners.

It was a difficult and controversial year for the National Labor Relations Board. In early May, a ">federal judge struck down a board rule that took effect on April 30. Advocates said the regulation simplified the process for workplace unionization elections. Opponents, which included several construction industry groups, contended the rule made it harder for employers to prepare for union elections. The NRLB suspended the rule and is now considering further options.

A few weeks later, Terence F. Flynn, a Republican NLRB member, resigned amid fallout from allegations that he improperly shared data on pending NLRB cases with former chairman Peter Schaumber and others.

In November, the Justice Dept. negotiated the largest criminal settlement in U.S. history when"> BP agreed to plead guilty to felony manslaughter, environmental crimes and obstruction of justice and to pay more than $4 billion in criminal fines and penalties for its conduct leading to the devastating Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010.

High Court: Declines Jacobs Case, Upholds Most of Obamacare
At the U.S. Supreme Court, perhaps the case the construction industry watched most closely was one the court declined to take: ">Jacobs Engineering Group v. Minnesota. In that case, Jacobs challenged an attempt by Minnesota to collect millions of dollars from the company to make payments to victims of the I-35W bridge collapse in 2007 in Minneapolis.