Marine Transportation System

Let’s Hear It For Congress

In Federal Government on October 2, 2009 at 11:51 am

At risk of speaking too soon and jinxing the whole thing…  A toast to Congress!

This time next week Congress should complete action on the Energy & Water Development Appropriations for FY 2010 (HR 3183).   With any luck the funding bill for the Federal water resources and energy programs will be approved by the Senate next week and become law just a couple weeks past the start of the fiscal year.  (We may even hear popping corks from within Capitol Hill locker rooms.)

Well, yes, nowadays we do set low the bar for achievement in Washington.  But that is not to diminish the significance of a job completed.

Just a few decades ago our Federal government started the fiscal year with enacted appropriations measures–one produced by each of the appropriations subcommittees.  But that is a distant memory.  Instead Continuing Resolutions (CR) by which Congress gives itself more time to finish bills and ensure government doesn’t grind to a halt now are predictable fixtures in appropriations sausage-making.  Same for “omnibus” spending measures into which congresses loads all incomplete funding bills as a last, exhausted effort to get the job done.

What’s the big deal about meeting the fiscal deadline?  Well, besides clearing the legislative calendar for other pressing issues, there is the matter of how well government functions and the ripple effect on lower levels of government and the entities whose programs,  projects, and budgets depend on that Federal money and its timing.

In the case of the E&W bill, Corps of Engineers commercial navigation, flood control and other projects involve public agency partners and private contractors.  If the Corps doesn’t have a clear funding signal from Congress contracts  and other work are delayed.   If it is a dredging project, factor in whether the project is in a region where the construction season is limited by weather, and if there are additional calendar restrictions based on aquatic critters mating habits, etc.  There are many more practical considerations, of course.  The end results are heightened costs and delayed benefits for all involved.

In the past seven years the E&W bill was completed by the October 1st deadline zero times.  It was delayed anywhere from one to six months.  In  FY 2007 Congress just gave up and adopted a full year CR, with all its attending disruptions to projects and programs.

So, let’s acknowledge Congress for getting the E&W bill done.    A toast!    Pbea

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