A tide of information on politics, environment, and ocean issues

News and information from Washington, DC

Posts Tagged ‘Congress

Florida’s Senator Rubio proposes to prohibit all funding to make governing oceans and coasts more efficient

leave a comment »

ANALYSIS:

Senator Marco Rubio image

Senator Marco Rubio is the Ranking member on the Senate Commerce Committee, Subcommittee on Ocean, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard – an important role for ensuring the efficient and effective management of our oceans and coasts. It is a disturbing early step by Senator Rubio in the 113th Congress to defund all programs addressed by E.O. 13547 which implement the National Ocean Policy, including those efforts to make ocean governance more efficient and cost effective.Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), has introduced an amendment to the 2013 continuing resolution – the bill which would fund the federal government for the remainder of FY2013 – which would trip away all funding used to implement items within President Obama’s Executive Order E.O. 13547.

For those only paying the minimal amount of attention to DC politics, cutting funding to implement an Obama Administration policy might seem like an effort to cut back on programs that Republicans see as wasteful and outside the intended reach of the federal government. However, this ham-handed approach not only would frustrate interests of the Obama Administration, it would greatly hamper efforts which Republicans regularly support – improved coordination to reduce waste and duplication in government programs.

Rubio’s amendment (#102 to bill H.R. 933) is a blunt legislative tool that could eliminate such things as multiagency coordination for marine debris cleanups (remember the 3-11 tsunami disaster?  We’re far from done addressing the aftermath of that event on our coasts and the mariners who operate on the open seas.), protection of our ever diminishing coral reef habitats, or any number of themes which fall across agency boundaries and require improved planning and coordination if the Executive side of government hopes to have any chance to unwind the overlapping policy responsibilities and corresponding budgets created by a patchwork of laws passed by Congress over the last 40 years.

There have been similar sloppy legislative efforts by Rep. Bil Flores (R-TX) to block all funding relating to the “national ocean policy” promoted by the Obama Administration, but this is the first time I’ve seen that the short sighted efforts  mirrored on the Senate side.

One can only hope that with time the junior Senator from Florida’s drafting of legislation will improve and address substantive issues, rather than blunt language replete with unintended consequences. As Senator Rubio holds a new position as ranking member on the Senate Commerce Committee Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard, he is in great position to use the Committee’s professional staff to better understand the implications of language he introduces.

Florida is an important coastal state – important to the people of Florida and important to the nation. I hope that as the 113th Congress continues Senator Rubio takes the time to review the broad reaching impacts of legislation, even legislation as short as amendment #102 in the FY2013 continuing resolution.

Florida enjoys both the beauty and bounty of the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico. Along with those resources comes a collection of issues that need addressing if Florida residents and the millions of visitors who enjoy her shores are going to be able to continue to seek pleasure and economic prosperity from the state’s coasts. A number of the challenges facing Florida today cross multiple federal agencies statutory areas of responsibility (not to mention significant overlap with state of county agencies) and are challenging to coordinate.

Eliminating funding for programs the Presidential Executive Order would use as tools to address some of those inefficiencies is short sighted and poorly crafted legislation.

The language of the Rubio amendment as introduced:

SA 102. Mr. RUBIO submitted an amendment intended to be proposed by him to the bill H.R. 933, making appropriations for the Department of Defense, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and other departments and agencies for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2013, and for other purposes; which was ordered to lie on the table; as follows:

     At the appropriate place, insert the following:

    Sec. __. None of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available by this Act may be obligated or expended to carry out Executive Order No. 13547, relating to Stewardship of the Ocean, Our Coasts, and the Great Lakes.

 

The author of this blog is a scientist by training and the owner of W.H. Nuckols Consulting, an environmental policy, government relations and strategic communications firm in Washington, DC.
A bio for Mr. Nuckols is located at www.WilliamHNuckols.com

You can follow Will Nuckols on Twitter at @enviroxpert and on Pinterest at http://pinterest.com/willnuckols/

Advertisements

Hurricane Sandy relief bill passes Senate. Provides important aid but House R’s efforts to strip out $ for planning to rebuild survive.

leave a comment »

Tonight the Hurricane Sandy emergency funding bill from the House of Representatives H.R.152 : Disaster Relief Appropriations Act, 2013, was taken up in the Senate with limited debate – quite limited. The bill passed the Senate with 62 votes, a bipartisan rare success in DC, with nine Republicans joining 53 Democrats.

NASA image of Hurricane Sandy

NASA satellite image of Hurricane Sandy which resulted in massive damage to coastal communities

The $50.5 billion aid package to help the region recover is now on its way to President Obama’s desk, but like much legislation that is drafted in DC, it isn’t perfect. Unlike some errors that appear in legislation which are the result of late night drafting under tight deadlines or simple inability to predict a changing set of future circumstances which result in unintended consequences, some problems with legislation are quite intentional, and the bill that passed today contains a very intentional problem.

Rep. Bill Flores, R-Texas’s 14th district (Waco, College Park and nearby areas) has been adamant about defunding anything that comes through the House with connections to a wide-reaching set of plans to make government more efficient and improve the planning in our coastal and ocean waters. Those plans, crafted over a number of years by multiple bi-partisan commissions, were combined and announced during President Obama’s first year in office through an Executive Order which established the nation’s first National Ocean Policy.

Rep. Flores’ efforts to object to the President’s plans have thus far aimed at removing the funding for efforts to have more sensible planning occur in the U.S. coastal zone and ocean waters, and he’s been fairly successful in getting provisions added to House spending bills.  In the 112th Congress efforts to oppose the National Ocean Policy in the House were successful, but those successes met a quick end when Senate bills which lack such provisions run into the differing House language in Conference Committee. Ultimately the House language drops out…or it did in the 112th Congress.

To expedite the relief for victims of the Hurricane Sandy disaster Senate leadership fought to bring the House bill up for consideration with the minimum amendments possible. In fact only one Republican – Senator Mike Lee of Utah – had an amendment which was considered. That amendment proposed to fully offset the relief aid costs with cuts to discretionary funding, an amendment popular with Tea Party groups, but which fell well below the necessary 60 votes and failed 35-62.  That meant the Senate was voting on the House version of the bill as-is, including the provision from Rep. Flores to cut $150M in grant support for Regional Planning Bodies.

image of flooded taxis

Flooding resulted in economic losses and also damage to transportation infrastructure communities depend upon. Will we plan better for the next flooding event?

On the surface for those not immersed in governance issues for a living, the Flores amendment looks reasonable as it saves money by eliminating funds for NOAA pass-through funds which look to some to be unrelated to the disaster recovery. But to the informed the cuts which save $150M endanger the effectiveness of the $50.5B in federal dollars slated to flow to the region. The Regional Planning Bodies are structured with a membership that includes federal agencies, states and tribes, with input from a range of groups representing the private sector.  It is precisely that sort of broad membership which would be well positioned to discuss not simply how to rebuild what was lost, but how to make it better and most importantly in the context of disaster response, how to make what is rebuilt more resilient.

Whether Rep. Flores’ efforts are simply naive penny wise pound foolish, or whether they are a calculated effort to frustrate President Obama’s efforts to govern at every available turn is unclear. But what is clear is that $50.5B is a major federal investment, and we can only hope the federal agencies, states, tribes and localities can find ways not prohibited by the legislation to collaborate and rebuild in a coordinated way that is mindful of our changing climatic conditions. We need policies and practices that mitigate a changing climate with a systematic approach to adaptation, not a piecemeal approach that leaves some communities much better planned while others are left unnecessarily in harm’s way. The $150M that was cut from the $50.5B package made just such a well crafted response a bit harder.

The author of this blog is a scientist by training and the owner of W.H. Nuckols Consulting, an environmental policy, government relations and strategic communications firm in Washington, DC.
A bio for Mr. Nuckols is located at www.WilliamHNuckols.com

You can follow Will Nuckols on Twitter at @enviroxpert and on Pinterest at http://pinterest.com/willnuckols/

House Republicans broadly support amendment to block President’s efforts to make federal ocean agencies more efficient

leave a comment »

On Wednesday afternoon on the floor of the House of Representatives Representative Bill Flores, (R-TX), introduced an amendment to H.R. 5326 the FY2013 appropriations bill for those agencies in Commerce, Justice, Science budget block. The Amendment would block the expenditure of any funds provided by the Commerce Justice Science (CJS) appropriations bill for FY2013 to be used for the implementation of the “National Ocean Policy,” thereby blocking the coordination of the multitude of laws passed by Congress in a more efficient manner.

While the vote in the House of Representatives occurred largely along party lines, it is a mistake to characterize the issue as one which Democrats understand more clearly than Republicans. A handful of Republicans, including the House Natural Resources Committee chair Rep. Doc Hastings from Washington, are seemingly perpetually confused about the meaning of the National Ocean Policy, the Executive Order which created it and the policies that it espouses.

Flores Amendment to block funding for National Ocean Policy presented on the House floor 10May2012

However, this lack of understanding has not been consistent in the Republican Party. In the prior Administration President Bush (43) called for a Presidential Commission to examine America’s policies regarding our oceans and coasts, and that group’s report, dovetailed remarkably well with the Pew Ocean Commission, Chaired by Leon Panetta, which released its own report shortly before President Bush’s Commission released its findings. None of the findings in either Commission’s reports support a call from current Republicans in the House to further frustrate coordination and collaboration among the dozens of federal agencies involved in implementing the laws passed by Congress which impact our oceans and coasts.

The Flores amendment passed on a 246-174 vote, largely along party lines. A detailed listing of the vote is listed below.

The text of the amendment language is:

“At the end of the bill (before the short title), insert the following:

    Sec. __. None of the funds made available by this Act may be used to implement the National Ocean Policy developed under Executive Order 13547 (75 Fed. Reg. 43023, relating to the stewardship of oceans, coasts, and the Great Lakes).”

The author is a scientist by training and the owner of W.H. Nuckols Consulting, an environmental policy, government relations and strategic communications firm in Washington, DC.
A bio for Mr. Nuckols is located at www.WilliamHNuckols.com

You can follow Will Nuckols on Twitter at @enviroxpert and on Pinterest at http://pinterest.com/willnuckols/

FINAL VOTE RESULTS FOR ROLL CALL 234(Republicans in roman; Democrats in italic; Independents underlined)

—- AYES    246 —

Adams
Aderholt
Akin
Alexander
Altmire
Amash
Amodei
Austria
Barletta
Barrow
Bartlett
Barton (TX)
Benishek
Berg
Bilbray
Bilirakis
Bishop (NY)
Black
Blackburn
Bonner
Bono Mack
Boren
Boustany
Brady (TX)
Brooks
Broun (GA)
Buchanan
Bucshon
Buerkle
Burgess
Burton (IN)
Calvert
Camp
Campbell
Canseco
Cantor
Capito
Carter
Cassidy
Chabot
Chaffetz
Coble
Coffman (CO)
Cole
Conaway
Cravaack
Crawford
Crenshaw
Critz
Cuellar
Culberson
Davis (KY)
Denham
Dent
DesJarlais
Diaz-Balart
Dreier
Duffy
Duncan (SC)
Duncan (TN)
Ellmers
Emerson
Farenthold
Fincher
Flake
Fleischmann
Fleming
Flores
Forbes
Fortenberry
Foxx
Franks (AZ)
Frelinghuysen
Gallegly
Gardner
Garrett
Gerlach
Gibbs
Gibson
Gingrey (GA)
Gohmert
Goodlatte
Gosar
Gowdy
Granger
Graves (GA)
Graves (MO)
Green, Al
Green, Gene
Griffin (AR)
Griffith (VA)
Grimm
Guinta
Guthrie
Hall
Hanna
Harper
Harris
Hartzler
Hastings (WA)
Heck
Hensarling
Herger
Herrera Beutler
Hochul
Holden
Huelskamp
Huizenga (MI)
Hultgren
Hunter
Hurt
Issa
Jenkins
Johnson (IL)
Johnson (OH)
Johnson, Sam
Jordan
Kelly
King (IA)
King (NY)
Kingston
Kinzinger (IL)
Kissell
Kline
Labrador
Lamborn
Lance
Landry
Lankford
Latham
Latta
Lewis (CA)
LoBiondo
Long
Lucas
Luetkemeyer
Lummis
Lungren, Daniel E.
Mack
Manzullo
Marchant
Marino
Matheson
McCarthy (CA)
McCaul
McClintock
McCotter
McHenry
McKeon
McKinley
McMorris Rodgers
Meehan
Mica
Miller (FL)
Miller (MI)
Miller, Gary
Mulvaney
Murphy (PA)
Myrick
Neugebauer
Noem
Nugent
Nunes
Nunnelee
Olson
Owens
Palazzo
Paul
Paulsen
Pearce
Pence
Peterson
Petri
Pitts
Platts
Poe (TX)
Pompeo
Posey
Price (GA)
Quayle
Rahall
Reed
Rehberg
Reichert
Renacci
Ribble
Rigell
Rivera
Roby
Roe (TN)
Rogers (AL)
Rogers (KY)
Rogers (MI)
Rohrabacher
Rokita
Rooney
Ros-Lehtinen
Roskam
Ross (AR)
Ross (FL)
Royce
Runyan
Ryan (WI)
Scalise
Schilling
Schock
Schweikert
Scott (SC)
Scott, Austin
Sensenbrenner
Sessions
Shimkus
Shuler
Shuster
Simpson
Smith (NE)
Smith (NJ)
Smith (TX)
Southerland
Stivers
Stutzman
Sullivan
Terry
Thompson (PA)
Thornberry
Tiberi
Tipton
Turner (NY)
Turner (OH)
Upton
Walberg
Walden
Walsh (IL)
Webster
West
Westmoreland
Whitfield
Wilson (SC)
Wittman
Wolf
Womack
Woodall
Yoder
Young (AK)
Young (FL)
Young (IN)

—- NOES    174 —

Ackerman
Andrews
Baca
Baldwin
Bass (CA)
Bass (NH)
Becerra
Berkley
Berman
Biggert
Bishop (GA)
Blumenauer
Bonamici
Boswell
Brady (PA)
Braley (IA)
Brown (FL)
Butterfield
Capps
Capuano
Cardoza
Carnahan
Carney
Carson (IN)
Castor (FL)
Chandler
Chu
Cicilline
Clarke (MI)
Clarke (NY)
Clay
Cleaver
Clyburn
Cohen
Connolly (VA)
Conyers
Cooper
Costa
Costello
Courtney
Crowley
Cummings
Davis (CA)
Davis (IL)
DeFazio
DeGette
DeLauro
Deutch
Dicks
Dingell
Doggett
Dold
Doyle
Edwards
Ellison
Engel
Eshoo
Farr
Fattah
Fitzpatrick
Frank (MA)
Fudge
Garamendi
Gonzalez
Grijalva
Gutierrez
Hahn
Hanabusa
Hastings (FL)
Hayworth
Heinrich
Higgins
Himes
Hinchey
Hinojosa
Hirono
Holt
Honda
Hoyer
Israel
Jackson (IL)
Jackson Lee (TX)
Johnson (GA)
Johnson, E. B.
Jones
Kaptur
Keating
Kildee
Kind
Langevin
Larsen (WA)
Larson (CT)
LaTourette
Lee (CA)
Levin
Lewis (GA)
Lipinski
Loebsack
Lofgren, Zoe
Lowey
Luján
Lynch
Maloney
Markey
Matsui
McCarthy (NY)
McCollum
McDermott
McGovern
McIntyre
McNerney
Meeks
Michaud
Miller (NC)
Miller, George
Moore
Moran
Murphy (CT)
Nadler
Neal
Olver
Pallone
Pascrell
Pastor (AZ)
Pelosi
Perlmutter
Peters
Pingree (ME)
Polis
Price (NC)
Quigley
Rangel
Reyes
Richardson
Richmond
Rothman (NJ)
Roybal-Allard
Ruppersberger
Rush
Ryan (OH)
Sánchez, Linda T.
Sanchez, Loretta
Sarbanes
Schakowsky
Schiff
Schrader
Schwartz
Scott (VA)
Scott, David
Serrano
Sewell
Sherman
Sires
Smith (WA)
Speier
Stark
Stearns
Sutton
Thompson (CA)
Thompson (MS)
Tierney
Tonko
Towns
Tsongas
Van Hollen
Velázquez
Visclosky
Walz (MN)
Wasserman Schultz
Waters
Watt
Waxman
Woolsey
Yarmuth

—- NOT VOTING    11 —

Bachmann
Bachus
Bishop (UT)
Donnelly (IN)
Filner
Kucinich
Napolitano
Schmidt
Slaughter
Welch
Wilson (FL)

Administration blocks Oil Spill Report lead investigators from testifying before Congress

leave a comment »

House Resources Chairman Doc Hastings request for a “Prompt Hearing on BOEMRE/Coast Guard Spill Report” is foiled by Administration delays. 

In an odd game of who gets to talk to whom, the House of Representatives Natural Resources Committee’s attempts to have, in the words of the Committee’s press release a “Prompt Hearing on BOEMRE/Coast Guard Spill Report” on the oil spill at the Macondo well and the loss of the Transocean drill platform which resulted in the spill of millions of gallons of oil and the loss of 11 lives, has been foiled – or at least delayed a bit.

photo of the drilling platform Deepwater Horizon

The loss of Transocean's Deepwater Horizon drilling platform and the wellhead blowout spilled millions of gallons into the Gulf of Mexico and took the lives of 11 workers on the platform. A joint U.S. Coast Guard and DOI report has been released detailing the government's findings on the causes of the disaster. Now Congress has expressed interest in quickly speaking with the lead investigators in a hearing in the House, but disagreements between the Committee and the Administration over who can speak about the report is resulting in delays in the hearing schedule. Originally scheduled for this morning, the hearing has been moved to October 6, 2011.

On September 14th the Natural Resource Committee released a statement that “On Friday, September 23rd, the Natural Resources Committee will hold a Full Committee oversight hearing on the final report of the BOEMRE/U.S. Coast Guard Joint Investigation Team.”

It then went on to add that:

“After repeated delays, the federal government is finally releasing the findings of its investigation into the tragic Deepwater Horizon incident,” Chairman Hastings said. “This is another significant report on the disaster and I’m hopeful it will give us a clearer picture about what happened so Congress, industry and the Administration can move forward responsibly and appropriately. We have waited far too long for this report, but the Committee is ready to take action and a hearing is now officially scheduled for next week. I’m confident that with a far more complete reporting of the facts, we will be able to take a thoughtful approach to real reforms to ensure continued safe American energy production.”

However, in order to get down to a back and forth dialogue about the facts and findings in the report there needs to be witnesses to testify to the facts and answer questions from members of both parties.  That part isn’t going very well at the moment.

In a press release on September 23rd House Natural Resource Committee Chairman Doc Hastings announced that “tomorrow’s Full Committee oversight hearing on the final report of the BOEMRE/U.S. Coast Guard Joint Investigation Team (JIT) will be postponed until October 6, 2011 due to the Obama Administration’s last-minute refusal to allow investigation team members to testify.”

“It took far too long for the final report to be issued and the Obama Administration is now further delaying proper oversight by suddenly refusing to allow members of the investigation team to testify. Based on numerous conversations between Committee staff and the Administration, it was confirmed that investigators from the BOEM and Coast Guard team would be testifying at Friday’s hearing. We were informed today, one day prior to the hearing, that this had changed. It’s unacceptable for the Committee not to be able to hear from the actual investigators who conducted the investigation and wrote the report.

“It’s always been my intention to first hear from the investigators about their findings, in order to get all the facts, and then hear from the specific companies that are cited in the report. The companies have been notified of this fact. The Administration’s actions are complicating and compromising the Committee’s ability to move forward on this matter.

One presumed rationale for asking the report’s lead investigators and authors to directly testify, rather that having senior Administration officials from DOI and the USCG testify – a common practice in DC where leadership typically responds to Congressional inquiries, not the career rank an file – if because Chairman Hastings is believed to be interested in asking not only substantive questions about the report itself, but to also ask questions about the reasons for the multiple delays in the production of the report. While that question has not yet been posed to any investigators from the joint report, some on the Hill are assuming that the delays are the result of DC agency leadership fighting with the report’s authors about language which would appear in the final report. At this stage there seems to be little evidence of a heavy hand by the agency leaderships or by the White House, but proving or dispelling that theory is being made difficult by the Administration’s refusal to allow the investigation team members to testify.

The current employment status of one of the lead investigators is surely a concern for the Administration – the Department Interior’s lead investigator, David Dykes, a former Minerals Management Service employee who worked for over a decade for MMS, has left government employment and now holds a new job.

On September 14th Time Magazine Senior Reporter Brian Walsh Tweeted “BOEMRE’s lead investigator on BP spill, J. David Dykes, left the agency earlier this month. New job: Chevron”

While this is obviously awkward for the Administration, it is unclear why efforts would be made to block the U.S. Coast Guard’s lead investigator as his failure to appear before the Natural Resources Committee only invites theories about the Administration’s motives, and gives fuel to the fire of those positioning to paint the report as something other than an accurate description of the investigators’ findings.

The Deepwater Horizon Joint Investigation Team Final Report can be found through the following links:

Chapters of the final JIT Investigative Report:

The Natural Resources Committee hearing, now scheduled for October 6, 2011, will occur in room 1324 of the Longworth House Office Building.  For those not in Washington DC and unable to attend in person the Committee will stream the video live on the internet.  Check out http://naturalresources.house.gov/ URL for the link to the live webcast on October 6, 2011.

photo of the The blowout preventer of the Deepwater Horizon on a barge

The blowout preventer of the Deepwater Horizon is transported on the Mississippi River into New Orleans, Sept. 11, 2010. The blowout preventer was DOI BOEM/US Coast Guard investigation determine the circumstances surrounding the explosion, fire, pollution, and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon platform. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Stephen Lehmann.

The author is a scientist by training and the owner of W.H. Nuckols Consulting, an environmental policy firm.
A bio for Mr. Nuckols is located at www.WilliamHNuckols.com

You can follow Will Nuckols on Twitter at @enviroxpert

 

 

Republicans hope to cut 100 billion from the FY11 budget in only 7 months

leave a comment »

H.R. 1, the House Republican’s first bill of the 112th Congress, was released on Friday February 11th. The 359 page bill outlines the cuts to the discretionary federal budget for FY2011 which the Republicans hope would result in a savings of approximately $100 billion compared to the President’s FY2011 budget request which was released in February of 2010. The proposed $100 billion in cuts emerged after House Appropriations Chairman Rodgers received flack after his mid-week proposal of more than $73 billion was released, a number which some in the party stated wasn’t going nearly far enough.

cover of H.R.1 the Republican Bill that proposed dramtic spending cuts for FY2011

The Republican's first bill of the 112th Congress, H.R. 1, proposed $100 billion in cuts from the dicretionary portion of the federal budget for FY2011.

Cuts to the discretionary budget, which account for only a small portion of the overall federal budget, are dramatic in the Republican plan, and if passed the cuts in delivery of services to the American people will be at least, if not more, dramatic. While overhead will remain largely unchanged by a budget which will need to be executed mere days after its passage, funds that are used to execute programs will be cut at an even higher, and at this stage wholly unknown, level.

But while the dollar figures for the proposed cuts and the percent reductions compared to the FY10 budget or President’s FY11 request have been the focus of the early reporting on the bill, the fact that these proposed cuts in the budget will need to occur over a 7 month period rather than a full fiscal year has been largely ignored. We are already five months onto the federal fiscal year which started on October 1, 2010. 

Through a series of continuing resolution spending bills for FY2011 the government has limped along on dribs and drabs of funds which have been released at FY2010 levels. And accordingly agencies have largely spent at the 2010 rate as well. This means that if the proposed Republican spending plan for the remainder of FY2011 is enacted then federal agencies will have effectively already been overspending for the last 5 months, and they will need to account for the full cuts in FY2011 in a little over half of a year. For instance, if in the Republican House bill an agency is to receive a 16% cut in funding for all of FY2011 the agency will need to cuts its spending by more than 27% for the remainder of the fiscal year, making large cuts effectively translating into cuts of such a large-scale that agencies are likely to be essentially wholly ineffective.

In the coming days I’ll be highlighting several of the cuts which will dramatically impact environmental issues and a range of issues surrounding our oceans and coasts.  Until then you may wish to skim through the funding bill yourself. It might serve to steel you against the shock that will occur on monday when the President releases his FY2012 budget request and the Republicans in the House release their proposed FY2012 budget counter proposition.

The author is a scientist by training and the owner of W.H. Nuckols Consulting, an environmental policy firm.
A bio for Mr. Nuckols is located at www.WilliamHNuckols.com

Written by Will Nuckols

February 12, 2011 at 12:36 am

Will the earmark ban result in unprecedented control over federal spending by the President?

leave a comment »

image of U.S. Currency by William Nuckols

The ban on Congressional earmarks doesn't necessarily mean a smaller or better budgeting process, but it does mean a change in who controls the fine details of how U.S. taxpayer’s money will be spent by the federal government

The ban on earmarks by the House, the President, and now the Senate means that having agency budget requests right-sized is of ever increasing importance. Typically while some attention is paid to the President’s budget, the proposal is most often looked at as a starting place with a ballpark number for what the Executive believes will need to accomplish its agencies’ missions. But fine tuning for what specifically the agencies will  do with the funds Congress appropriates is often not that closely scrutinized, as Congress, through the earmark process, has been able to ensure that specific projects receive a defined allocation out of an agency’s overall budget allocation.

Now, with earmarks off of the table, the executive side of government just took a leap forward in power.

This means that not only will pet projects in Congressional Members’ home districts which aren’t widely supported nationally – but which were important to incumbents being reelected – be taken off the table, but Congresses’ budget authority in general is reduced.

If a federal agency was reluctant to allocate resources to one particular statutory responsibility because they had priorities elsewhere, earmarks could serve as a budgetary correction, forcing an agency to address Congress’s wishes at a much finer resolution than at the huge budget block level.

Whether Congress finds a way to continue to try to control the budget at a detailed level through alternative processes such as an expansion of detailed bill report language, or whether the President will be allowed latitude to implement his administration’s vision of their own priorities will pay out over the next several months as agencies’ budget hearings begin in the 112th Congress.

What workarounds to the earmark ban will Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) and House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Kentucky) employ to maintain their power and oversight role? No one has tipped their hand so far.

This will be quite the interesting policy experiment.

The author is a scientist by training and the owner of W.H. Nuckols Consulting, an environmental policy firm.
A bio for Mr. Nuckols is located at www.WilliamHNuckols.com

 

Written by Will Nuckols

February 2, 2011 at 9:00 am

If you find the Salmon reference in the State of the Union funny, the environmental field is replete with more comedy material

leave a comment »

picture of a wild coho salmon

In President Obama's State of the Union Address he used the oddity of Salmon being an issue covered by both the US Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA as an area of obvious duplication and inefficiency in government. The President named just that one example, but the numbers of others are almost too many to list.

Tonight in the State of the Union address President Obama cited the fact that both NOAA and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service both consider salmon as a part of their jurisdiction as a favorite example of his when he thinks about government reform and the need for a more efficient government.

If one is enjoying the salmon humor, but are are looking for yet another area of multiple jurisdictions overlapping in the federal government, an easy topic to research is the field of wetlands – their protection and restoration.  In the second half of the Bush (43) Administration a group of agencies came together, under the leadership of the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to determine who was working on President’s 3-million acre wetlands goal, to track their progress, and examine the budgets of those same agencies whose activities would be key to President Bush achieving his goal. After more than a little digging the authors of the report on the progress toward the goal had copious amounts of budget and performance data pouring in from seemingly everywhere, and even though it seemed that we’d turned over every rock, another multi-million dollar program would be found and have to be included in the calculations. This happened numerous times. I know because I was there – crunching the budget and performance numbers week after week as more information arrived in bits and pieces. An optimistic policy analyst might think that finding the money would be easy, especially since we agreed not to even consider funds of less than a few numbered thousand. And since OMB was a part of the workgroup, this would be especially easy given that OMB is the President’s accountant – right?  Wrong.  Really, really wrong.  Budget planning is a fairly stovepiped process, both on the Hill in the Legislature and in the Executive branch. Common theme items rarely get compared within a single budget block, and almost never get coordinated across multiple budget blocks. The work is too difficult and time consuming and administration after administration has shrugged their shoulders and allowed a somewhat chaotic budget planning process to continue.

President Bush's Conserving Americas Wetlands Report

In 2005 President Bush's wetlands report had the unintended consequence of unearthing the multitude of agencies who all work on the same topic - wetlands.

But wait – there’s the 2005 wetlands report now, and the reports like it that were produced for the next three years.  Surely once the information was readily available we’d start using that information to proactively plan a coordinated budget. That might seem likely to some, but in Washington, D.C. budget coordination is usually labeled as crosscut budget planning, and budget analysts, understanding the workload that comes with crosscut budgets, stay as far away from that sorts of analysis whenever possible. With no specific mandate to do crosscut budget planning, or even the lower bar of  “joint budget presentations,” status quo processes continue. It may seem odd to those outside of DC that even joint budget presentations, where no advance planning is performed, but there a document that connects the dots for the sake of the legislature, also fails to be produced.  The failure resides in two places:  The Administration, for not allocating the incremental additional staff who would be needed to produce a joint budget presentation, and also Congress, for not asking the Executive branch to produce a budget proposal that optimally helps Congress make informed decisions.

We have a  long way to go on government efficiency, but perhaps the President’s funny reference to Salmon will stick in people’s heads, and both the Administration and the Hill will both take the process of budget planning a good deal more seriously than their predecessors.

The author is a scientist by training and the owner of W.H. Nuckols Consulting, an environmental policy firm.
A bio for Mr. Nuckols is located at www.WilliamHNuckols.com


Written by Will Nuckols

January 25, 2011 at 10:53 pm