Washington, D.C.—Key members of Congress welcomed an announcement by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers identifying short-term disaster recovery projects it will fund with emergency money approved months ago.
“I have worked closely with all levels of Corps leadership to ensure the necessary funding is being allocated to the flood response,” Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), a veteran member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
“Unfortunately, it took a long time for waters to recede before any damage assessments could be done by the Corps—assessments that take additional time.”
Inhofe singled out work needed on the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System, adding he will continue to work with the Corps to ensure normal operations on that waterway as well as other projects.
Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.), ranking member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, cited the “countless levees” in need of repair in his congressional district.
“I am glad that this money is finally being put to its intended use of repairing our flood protection and getting communities back on their feet,” Graves said.
“In times of disaster, folks can’t afford to wait to get the help they need, and I’ll continue pushing to see the recovery process move forward.”
In its announcement, the agency identified the work it will accomplish with the $1 billion in the Flood Control and Coastal Emergencies account, $908 million in the Operation and Maintenance account and $575 million in the Mississippi River and Tributaries account provided in the supplemental appropriations disaster relief bill signed into law on June 6.
Of the $3.258 billion in that bill, $2.483 billion is for short-term repairs.
R.D. James, assistant secretary of the Army for Civil Works, said the announcement demonstrates the Trump administration’s commitment to fixing the nation’s infrastructure.
A current list of projects that will be funded to repair damages resulting from natural disasters is posted at www.usace.army.mil/Missions/Civil-Works/ as “Short-Term Repairs” under “Supplemental Appropriations for Disasters 2019.”
Continuing Appropriations Act
Congress passed and President Donald Trump signed into law a stop-gap Continuing Appropriations Act to keep the government funded through November 21, avoid another shutdown and give the White House and appropriators more time to work out their critical differences on where to spend taxpayer dollars in fiscal year 2020.
That freed up both houses of Congress to leave Washington for a two-week break.
H.R. 4378 became law without the usual drama that can accompany such legislation. It passed by easy margins in both chambers—301–123 in the House and 81–16 in the Senate—and Trump signed it into law on September 27, several days ahead of the start of fiscal year 2020.
Still, on the downside, such continuing resolutions are disliked across the board.
They keep the federal agencies funded and open, but they do not allow any changes to take place, including funding increases that help implement improvements viewed as crucial for agencies and the services they provide to U.S. taxpayers.
Members of the waterways industry were tracking several issues in this year’s appropriations cycle, including a funding hike for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
With Congress on a break, it is difficult to predict what happens next on appropriations, especially on issues that generate strong partisan feelings such as border security. However, early signs seem positive.
Trump tweeted his support for Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, who clearly does not want to see his committee’s work on the bills stall indefinitely.
“These are good bills that seek to address important objectives,” Shelby said in his own tweet as he expressed hope for a “deliberate, bipartisan” approach on the various spending bills.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) continues to insist the ongoing impeachment inquiry that Trump angrily dismisses as a hoax should remain separate from other congressional duties.
During her weekly press conference, Pelosi mentioned USMCA (the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement) and even infrastructure as areas that could be worked on with the administration.
“We are making progress on a U.S.-Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement,” she told reporters.
Ocean Carrier Regs
The Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) voted to move forward with exempting ocean carriers from publishing essential terms of service contracts, implementing regulatory changes on nonpublic collaborative discussions and other provisions mandated by a 2018 law and publishing a final rule to restructure how the agency oversees enforcement matters.
FMC Chairman Michael Khouri said the commission’s actions will reduce burdens on ocean carriers and improve the governance of the agency.
“Our vote on revising the delegated authority to the Bureau of Enforcement for informal settlements of civil penalties is especially important as it ensures that the commissioners have the responsibility for approving informal enforcement proceedings and settlements,” Khouri said.
The action impacting ocean carriers was described as partial win on a petition filed last year by the World Shipping Council seeking regulatory relief from that requirement.