Today’s post features commentary from guest author Julie Minerva.
For lobbyists, reading through annual appropriations reports is like hunting for Easter eggs. Unlike appropriations bills which are slim and rather constrained documents, appropriations reports provide an opportunity for the House and Senate Appropriations Committees to communicate directly to federal agencies. Whether it be prescribing direction to an agency on a particular federal program, conveying the committee’s opinion on an agency’s action (or as the case often is, inaction), or holding back federal funds until an agency performs in accordance with the wishes of the committee, appropriations reports are both entertaining and insightful for Washington insiders.
While this language is not legally binding, committees exercise a great deal of restraint and are very strategic about the types of language they will include. Simply put, if an issue or project gets a special mention in report language you know it must be a high priority for the committee. And this is where the latest Easter egg discovery comes into play.
Tucked into the House FY18 Financial Services and General Government Appropriations report is a message to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) regarding their involvement in the review of civil works projects for the US Army Corps of Engineers (Corps). The language, which you can view here on page 340, is interesting for several reasons. First, it’s not included in the Energy & Water Appropriations bill which has jurisdiction over the Corps civil works portfolio, rather it’s included in the appropriations bill which funds the salaries of OMB employees. Second, it basically admonishes the OMB for over reach in the review of Corps projects. And third, it seeks to restore power to the Corps when it comes to determining whether a particular project qualifies for a federal investment. For those local sponsors that have cleared all of the Corps process hurdles only to be stymied by OMB review, this language is a welcome sight. As the FY18 appropriations process moves forward this is something that we’ll be keeping our eye on.