As media reports of the coronavirus started to become front-page news, my interest was peaked by articles that described the situation as an “infodemic”. Now several weeks and three-federal relief packages later, I think it is safe to say that many non-federal infrastructure interests are surfing from an infodemic on what Congress did and (more to the point) did not do with over $2 trillion dollars in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act). In the last week, I’ve fielded more questions than I can count regarding federal stimulus opportunities. And with each response, I’ve done my “glass half full” best to throw tepid, not cold water on the situation. Continue Reading
Imagine how early you could retire if you had a dollar for every time someone told you to “think outside the box.” Personally, I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard this charge in my educational and professional life. But what if I told you that the real money can be found by thinking within the box? To be more specific, four little boxes…
When it comes to funding decisions for U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) projects, you’re best served by channeling your twitter talents into answering the following four excel spreadsheet boxes:
- Project Description;
- Budget Item Justification (what’s the value of doing the work?);
- Consequences (what are the risks of not doing the work?);
- Remarks (anything that doesn’t fit squarely into the other fields).
The Corps must think that the best things come in fours, because at any point in time the Corps is working on no less than four budget years:
- They’re executing on the fiscal year (FY) they have received funding for; in this case FY19;
- They’re working on the budget currently before Congress; FY20;
- They’re in the process of developing and defending the President’s FY21 budget to be released in February 2020;
- They’re developing and defending a future year’s budget; FY22.
This quad-budget approach helps the Corps evaluate and plan for the construction of large-scale investments with funding needs across multiple budget years, as well as identifying budget spots for smaller operations and maintenance needs. But let’s be honest: with hundreds of priorities competing within any given fiscal year, this is no small task. To cut down on confusion the Corps essentially uses an excel spreadsheet in which the funding needs of every civil works project in the nation is evaluated by the information inside those four excel boxes mentioned at the start. If you’re hearing about these four boxes for the first time, you’re not alone.
While you should have great working relationships with your Corps district or division offices (if you don’t, forget the rest of this and make that your #1 priority), you likely won’t know many of the decision makers who will be developing and defending final budget allocations in Washington, D.C. And on the flip side, these same decision makers likely won’t know the details of your Central Valley, or Mississippi, or Oregon flood risk reduction need any better than they’ll know a channel deepening project in the South Atlantic Division. All they will know is what is presented to them in the four excel boxes.
If you’re a non-federal sponsor of a Corps project, it’s now your unspoken responsibility to help your partners at the Corps district level to fit your project details into those four boxes. But you don’t have to go it alone. Federal lobbyist like me help clients “tell their story” from the highest levels of Congress down to these four excel boxes. After having spent years moving your project through the SMART Planning Process, distilling a massive Chief’s Report into four excel boxes is a monumental challenge. Odds are, the current information that is being run up the chain of command about your project isn’t nearly as compelling as it can or should be.
Please let me know if you have questions about navigating your project through the Corps budgeting process, or any other federal funding issues. And remember, think OUTSIDE the box in the planning and design of your project, but think INSIDE the box(es) when it comes time to seek Corps funding.
Most of our past Blog posts have been focused on current events, analysis of new trends, and breaking news. Today, we are sharing some news that is eight months old but that offers a potential and promising path for getting things done. Some of you may already know of a not-very publicized policy memo distributed by James Dalton, USACE’s Director of Civil Works. This policy memo takes a creative approach in giving direction to MSCs (“major subordinate commands,” or “divisions” in plain English) and districts. That approach is: If you can’t get done what you need to get done, and the reason is a policy that we at USACE have adopted, then we will allow you to waive the policy so long as you have a good reason. This, is a good idea!
Most people would not associate flood insurance with the protection of endangered species. But over the past decade, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has been the target of multiple lawsuits alleging that the agency has violated the Endangered Species Act by not considering the impacts of its flood insurance program on endangered species and their habitat.
[This topic will be discussed at the Floodplain Management Association conference in San Diego from September 3-6, 2019. Here is a link to the conference registration.]
In the latest round of litigation, a federal court in California has struck down as arbitrary and capricious an analysis by FEMA that its administration of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) was not likely to adversely affect endangered or threatened species or habitat. Continue Reading
As a registered federal lobbyist I’m often asked to describe my job. Some days I describe it as an advocate; other days as an educator. I’ve also been known to liken it to being a translator or cruise director, but this past month it has felt a lot like being a host of Talk Soup. You see, I attend countless Congressional hearings and markups and spend endless hours watching House and Senate floor debate on C-SPAN. To borrow a phrase from Greg Kinnear, I watch it so you don’t have to. In that spirit, and because I am long over due on providing a blog post to TheLeveeWasDry.Com, here are the highlights from the House debate on the Fiscal Year 2020 (FY20) Energy & Water Appropriations bill.
In mid-June, the U.S. House of Representatives cleared the first Minibus appropriations package, HR 2740. The four-bill package included the FY20 Energy & Water Appropriations bill which funds the civil works program for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps). The House Appropriations Committee, under a new democratic majority, continues the longstanding bi-partisan support for the Corps and its mission by proposing a record level of funding for the Corps. In total the House proposes to fund the Corps at $7.36B, which is an increase of $357M over the FY19 enacted level and an increase of $2.53B over the President’s FY20 budget proposal. Continue Reading
The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) often seems to be the Congressional-stepchild; everyone knows that it deserves some attention but everyone is too busy with their favorite child. Unfortunately, the Program is scheduled to expire in May and when it expires, the consequences can be dire. Financial Services Committee Chair Maxine Waters has been a long-time proponent of the Program and the changes that are necessary to keep it running and make it work better. To that end, the Committee has scheduled a hearing for Wednesday, March 13th at 10:00 am. You can view the hearing here.
According to the Committee notice, the following people are scheduled to testify at the hearing:
- Maria Cox Lamm, South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, on behalf of the Association of State Flood Plain Managers
- Christopher Heidrick, Heidrick & Company Insurance and Risk Management Services, LLC, on behalf of the Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of America
- Velma Smith, Senior Officer, The Pew Charitable Trusts
- Mabél Guzmán, Broker, @properties, on behalf of the National Association of Realtors
- Collin O’Mara, President and CEO, National Wildlife Federation, on behalf of the SmarterSafer Coalition
- Raymond J. Lehmann, Director of Finance, Insurance and Trade Policy, Street Institute
If you answer yes to the questions below, you should carve out some time to participate in the US Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) next Public Private Partnership (P3) webinar:
- You are the non-federal sponsor of a federally authorized Corps project;
- The project construction cost exceeds $50M;
- The construction of the project includes a design, build, finance, operation and maintenance approach or some combination of these elements;
- The construction schedule will accelerate project delivery;
- The project has the ability to generate revenue or leverage non-federal funding sources.
Per a February 1st publication in the Federal Register, the Corps is currently soliciting project applications for its P3 pilot program. Applications are due by April 2nd and the Corps intends to select up to 10 projects nationwide. To support this opportunity, the Corps is holding P3 webinars to discuss the background behind this effort to help revolutionize the civil works program and to walk interested applicants through the process. You are invited to join the Corps for its next P3 webinar on Wednesday, February 13th from 1:00-2:30 pm EST/10:00-11:30 am PST:
Dial-in Number: 888-273-3658
Access Code: 8350039
Security code (if requested): 0039
Additional information about the Corps P3 efforts can be found by visiting the Corps Infrastructure Initiative page https://www.usace.army.mil/Missions/Civil-Works/Infrastructure/ and slides for the P3 webinar can be viewed here https://usace.contentdm.oclc.org/utils/getfile/collection/p16021coll11/id/3426
The Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2018, included as title I of the America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018 (S. 3021), was signed into law today. The new law provides the needed authorization for investment in harbor, waterway, flood protection, and other water infrastructure improvements throughout the country.
As noted in the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee press release:
“I am proud of the fact that our Committee, the House, and the Senate have worked together to send bipartisan WRDA legislation to the president in each of the last three congresses,” said Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA). “These laws are essential federal commitments to improving the harbors, ports, waterways, locks, dams, and other water infrastructure that makes our transportation network more efficient, the country competitively stronger, and our communities safer from flooding.”
“Passage of the Water Resources Development Act of 2018 is a win for our Nation’s coastal communities,” said Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Ranking Member Peter DeFazio (D-OR). “This critical legislation authorizes water infrastructure projects developed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that will strengthen our ports, harbors, and waterways, and will create and sustain jobs. This bill is the product of a strong bipartisan, bicameral effort and I applaud my House and Senate colleagues for their hard work to get this legislation signed into law. In particular, I want to thank Chairman Shuster who is retiring and under whose leadership we have passed a WRDA bill every two years.”
In contrast to this wordier press release, the White House had very little to say.
But at the end of the day, this is now three WRDAs in the past six years, continuing the effort of each Congress to pass a WRDA since 2014. In speaking with House and Senate staff, they all appear dedicated to keeping this trend going in the next Congress. But, we will need to wait and see.
Amidst much fanfare, on Friday President Trump released a Presidential Memoranda (much like an Executive Order, yet different?) directing Federal agencies to work together to reduce regulatory burdens on Western water deliveries. It appears that the main thrust of the Memoranda is for NOAA Fisheries (which has Endangered Species Act oversight over certain fish species) to be more highly coordinated with the Secretary of the Department of the Interior, who has oversight over the Federal Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Federal Bureau of Reclamation.
Interestingly, the Memorandum actually leads off by noting that “[d]uring the 20th Century, the Federal Government invested enormous resources in water infrastructure throughout the western United States to reduce flood risks to communities….” This might lead one to believe that the Memoranda actually addresses flood risk issues. But in fact, that is the only reference to flood in the Memoranda. Nonetheless, it is an interesting action and could foretell the Administration’s willingness to provide streamlining in the flood risk reduction arena as well.
Here is the White House release on the Memoranda:
REDUCING REGULATORY BURDENS: President Donald J. Trump’s Administration is reducing regulatory burdens that harm reliable water access in the West.
- President Trump is signing a memorandum to reduce regulatory burdens and promote more efficient environmental reviews of water infrastructure projects in the West.
- Decades of uncoordinated regulatory actions have diminished the ability of Federal infrastructure to deliver needed water and have increased costs in the West.
- Court actions dictating water operations have further complicated the regulatory environment.
- The President is directing the Secretary of the Interior and the Secretary of Commerce to:
- Streamline regulatory processes and remove unnecessary burdens.
- Develop a timeline for completing compliance requirements for major water projects.
- Responsibly expedite ongoing environmental reviews.
- Convene water experts and resource managers to develop an action plan for improving seasonal forecasts of water availability.
- Expand the use of technologies to improve the delivery of water and power.
- Consider the views of local operators during hydroelectric relicensing proceedings.
IMPROVING WATER RELIABILITY: President Trump is working to increase water reliability for families, farmers, and cities across the West.
- President Trump is committed to ensuring Western communities have the water supplies they need to maintain our economic prosperity.
- Federal water projects in the West irrigate millions of acres of farmland, provide water and power to millions, and support more than $48 billion in economic activity.
- The President’s memorandum will benefit major water infrastructure projects in order to more effectively meet the demands of water users in California, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington.
- The Administration will expedite biological opinions for the Central Valley Project and the California State Water Project in California, Klamath Irrigation Project in Oregon, and the Federal Columbia River System in the Pacific Northwest.
- Expedited regulatory processes will provide certainty for California farmers who need more water to restore farmlands crippled by drought and regulation.
PROTECTING ENDANGERED SPECIES: The President’s memorandum will ensure a timely review process without compromising environmental protections under the Endangered Species Act.
- The memorandum establishes timelines for environmental reviews of infrastructure projects, allowing the best information to guide conservation of endangered or threatened species.
- The timelines allow for robust environmental review processes.
- Agencies will make determinations regarding endangered and threatened species based on the best available scientific and commercial data.
Great news for those of us tracking the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), which authorizes specific projects, creates and modifies programs, and updates authorities for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers: The Senate has scheduled a a cloture vote on Tuesday. For those with less background on the inner-workings of the Senate, a cloture vote is a procedural vote to allow only 30 hours of debate on a topic, followed by a vote on a bill. In this case, if the cloture vote passes then the WRDA bill will be officially voted on at 9:00 pm on Wednesday assuming the Senate is still in session.
You will likely recall that the House recently passed S.3021, which was a pre-conference bill developed jointly by the House and Senate staffers to coordinate the House’s and Senate’s views on what should be in WRDA. Assuming that the cloture vote passes on Tuesday this all but assures that WRDA will be approved by the Senate and signed by the President before the week’s end.
Here is the notice provided to the Senate’s Democratic Caucus:
Tuesday, October 9, 2018
* The Senate will convene at 3:00pm and resume consideration of the House message to accompany S.3021, the legislative vehicle for the Water Resources Development Act of 2018 (WRDA).
* The cloture vote on the motion to concur with the House message to accompany S.3021 (WRDA) will occur at 5:30pm. If cloture is invoked, the Senate will begin to burn up to 30 hours post-cloture.
During the Friday and Saturday Sessions
House message to accompany S.3021, the legislative vehicle for the Water Resources Development Act of 2018 (WRDA).
* Senator McConnell moved to concur with the House message to accompany S.3021 and filed cloture on that motion to concur.
o Senator McConnell filled the amendment tree relative to the House message to accompany S.3021.