By Mae Stevens
At long last Congress finally passed the FY2022 Appropriations omnibus on March 10, signaling the end of the cycle of continuing resolutions (https://rollcall.com/2016/09/07/what-is-a-continuing-resolution/) that have kept the federal government afloat over the past six months.
The ongoing inability to pass a spending bill during his administration made it difficult for President Biden to deliver on his campaign promises, threatening the Democrats’ overall approval ratings as we head towards midterm elections. As the Democrats only maintain a slim Congressional majority, passage of a FY22 spending bill was important in their fight to maintain their majority.
The omnibus contained significant increases in overall investment in numerous programs, particularly in water resources and infrastructure. Notable examples include:
- The Environmental Protection Agency received a $400 million increase in funding, bringing their total operating budget to $9.6 billion.
- The Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Fund programs received flat funding from last year ($1.6 billion and $1.1 billion respectively), which will be additive to the $2.3 billion appropriated for FY23 under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL).
» $397 million of the CWSRF appropriation and $443 million of the DWSRF appropriation were for earmark projects.
- Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) grants received a $4.53 million increase in funding.
- An updated Clean Watersheds Needs Survey was funded, receiving an appropriation of $1.5 million.
Timeline for FY23
With FY22 out of the way, preparation has now begun in earnest for the FY2023 appropriations cycle, as Congress will aim to pass the next spending bill prior to the fiscal year ending on September 30, 2022, rather than 166 days behind schedule as was the case this time.
The appropriations process is initiated each fiscal year when the President submits his proposed budget request to Congress. Typically due on the first Monday in February, this year’s budget proposal was submitted on March 28, a byproduct of the continued delays caused by the FY22 negotiations. Following receipt of the budget request, House and Senate Budget Committees must then pass a budget resolution, which establishes a spending cap—formally referred to as the 302 (a) allocation—for the House and Senate Appropriations Committees. The committees then break this cap down one step further, establishing limits for each of their subcommittees, known as 302 (b) allocations.
Congressional offices then field stakeholder and constituent requests for spending initiatives, mull them over, and submit (https://appropriations.house.gov/transparency/appropriations-requests-2023) any they are willing to throw their weight behind to the various appropriations subcommittees. This year, member requests were submitted during the last week of April. From there, these subcommittees in the House and Senate will draft legislation in line with their 302 (b) allocation, member requests, and (perhaps most importantly) the political realities of their chamber. These draft bills will then be negotiated and merged into a larger “omnibus” package that is seen as palatable enough to have the votes needed to pass both chambers and be signed into law by the President.
If Congress fails to pass a funding package by the fiscal year deadline of September 30, they face two options: enter a government shutdown or pass a continuing resolution to maintain the current funding levels from the previous fiscal year while negotiations continue. As this date approaches, be sure to not hold your breath—since 1997 zero (yes, ZERO!) of these bills have passed on time, and the average delay is just over 3 months. While it is not out of the question for Congress to meet their deadline this year, most projections are that an omnibus will cross the finish line closer to the end of calendar year 2022.
At the beginning of the FY22 process, incoming House Appropriations Committee Chair Rosa DeLauro stated that “member-directed funding for community projects” would be returning —in other words, she was announcing the return of the earmark process after a 10-year hiatus.
An earmark is included in a final appropriations omnibus and directs federal funding to a specific project in a congressional member’s district, allowing Congress to allocate funding for specific projects without them having to go through the standard federal agency distribution process. This has been used as a tool to encourage compromise and negotiation, and to allow members to ensure wins for specific initiatives back home.
The practice was banned in 2011, as some considered it to promote wasteful and non-transparent expenditure of federal dollars. However, when DeLauro revived the process, she implemented a variety of provisions to ensure transparency and mitigate against waste, and the FY22 bill passed with billions of dollars directed towards local projects. The FY23 appropriations bill will also include earmarks and will follow a very similar process to that of FY22. Interested parties should review the committee’s guidance (https://appropriations.house.gov/sites/democrats.appropriations.house.gov/files/Guidance%20on%20Community%20Project%20Funding _2023.pdf) and work with their members of Congress.
Stay tuned for congressional hearings, draft legislation, and further updates on the FY23 process throughout the summer, and ensure you make your voice heard so that water infrastructure gets its adequate share of the pie.
About the author
Mae Stevens is an Executive Vice President at Signal Group and the Chair of Signal Water. She provides strategic environmental and infrastructure policy expertise to a diverse range of corporate, municipal and non-profit clients. Prior to joining Signal Group, Stevens served as Environmental Policy Advisor to Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), handling the Senator’s responsibilities on the Environment and Public Works Committee, including staffing the Senator during the crafting and passage of the FAST Act and the 2016 and 2018 Water Resources Development Act bills.