The President Is Pushing Infrastructure, But Not So Much Through the Corps’ Civil Works Program

by Downey Brand LLP
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[author: Julie Minerva*]

Today the Administration released its FY19 budget proposal. As you likely know, the budget proposal signifies the starting point for the annual appropriations cycle which will play out in Congress over the course of the calendar year. Large portions of the budget proposal will be deemed “dead on arrival” by Congress, but it’s important to understand what the Administration is proposing in order to gain a good understanding of the work that lays ahead in the House and Senate Appropriations Committees.

For the US Army Corps of Engineers (Corps), the Administration proposes a top level funding level of $4.8BB. This level is $202M below the Administration’s FY18 proposal. By major account this proposal further breaks down to the following:

  • $82M general investigations
  • $872M construction
  • $2.077B operation and maintenance

As well the proposal does not recommend any new studies or any new construction projects to be initiated. Rather the proposal seeks to complete six feasibility studies (out of 24 funded in the recommendation) as well as to complete one construction project (out of the 26 funded in the recommendation). The proposal also priorities dam safety projects. This appears to signal that this Administration does not want to add any new projects to the authorization pipeline.

For comparison purposes, below is a chart which shows the Administration’s starting point for the Corps in FY16, FY17 and FY18 and the increases that Congress made during the respective appropriations cycle. Congress has yet to complete work on the FY18 appropriations bills (and now with a two-year budget deal in place hopefully that happens around March 23rd) which is why that column is left “TBD”. The chart below also shows a comparison for the Administration’s FY18 budget proposal vs the FY19 budget proposal.

A full copy of the Corps’ FY19 project recommendations can be viewed here.

The Administration’s budget provides funding only to those projects which have a benefit-to-cost ratio of 2.5 to 1 or higher using the OMB preferred discount rate of 7%. This is a higher bar than Congress uses for authorization purposes. Using these metrics, the Administration’s budget leaves out a number of worthy projects which is why Congress provides a mechanism for funding additional projects (or as the case may be increasing funding for projects identified in the Corps budget) through the annual work plan process. The work plan process happens after Congress finalizes the appropriations package for any given year.

Tune in for further thoughts as the Congress again takes up funding with, what will hopefully be, the final spending bills of the year.

* 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

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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