April 28

Today’s post features a collaboration between guest author Julie Minerva and Scott and Andrea.

After a grueling six-week legislative stretch, Members of Congress have returned home for a two-week district work period (weeks of April 10 and April 17).  Senators are scheduled to return to the Capitol on Monday, April 24th, while the House of Representatives will follow one day behind with a series of evening votes on Tuesday, April 25th.  This schedule gives the House just three full legislative days before the current continuing resolution (CR) expires at midnight on Friday, April 28th.  In preparation for this looming deadline Congress essentially has five options:

  1. Finalize the Fiscal Year 2017 (FY17) appropriations bills as part of an omnibus appropriations package;
  2. Pass a year-long CR to fund the government at existing FY16 levels until the FY18 fiscal year starts on October 1;
  3. Consider a combination package that finalizes FY17 funding for easier to pass bills and provides a year-long CR for more problematic bills;
  4. Pass another short term stop gap CR to provide more time to finalize and build political support for a final FY17 budget vote sometime in May, or;
  5. Shut down the government.

For those local agencies dependent upon on an annual work plan for the US Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) to provide the federal share of an authorized project or study, option 1 is the cleanest and quickest path for providing the Corps with the necessary direction to initiate the FY17 work plan.  Using past years as a guide, you can expect that the Corps will have between 45 and 60 days to produce and clear a work plan through the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works (ASA) and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).  This timing would put the release of the FY17 work plan somewhere between mid-June to early July.  Furthermore, both the pending House and Senate FY17 Energy & Water Appropriations bills call for new start designations for feasibility studies and construction.  These markers are a good indication that new start designations will carry forward to the final bill and be assigned to specific projects during the work plan process.

You may recall that House appropriators were pushing hard last December to final the FY17 bills before the end of 2016, but in deference to the new administration, the Senate prevailed in convincing the House to pass another CR.  Based on recent conversations with appropriations staff, the FY17 bills are more or less ready to be finalized and staff is anxious to put FY17 behind them so that they can make way for FY18 efforts to begin in earnest.  It remains to be seen what political path House and Senate leadership decides on, but right now my crystal ball says that we’ll start with option 4 as a bridge to get to option 1 or option 3.  Regardless, pressure to resolve FY17 in some manner continues to build as the President is expected to unveil his full FY18 budget proposal in mid-May.  A scenario that leaves FY17 languishing beyond mid-May would make things unnecessarily complicated.  But then again, this is Washington.

Julie Minerva is a Washington, DC based infrastructure advocate who specializes in Civil Works and all things related to the US Army Corps of Engineers. You can find her at: jminerva@carpiclay.com