For Virginia, Nobody’s Home in the Congressional Infrastructure and Appropriations Committees

by James C. Sherlock

Incredible and statistically unlikely as it sounds, the Commonwealth of Virginia has not a single member on either of the Congressional House or Senate Committees that decide what infrastructure projects are authorized, or on either Appropriations Committee that decides what is spent on such projects and on everything else.

Those projects include the water resources projects such as hurricane and flood mitigation that we have been discussing this week.

The Committees in question are:

  • Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (11 R, 10 D),
  • House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure (37D, 30R) and
  • Appropriations Committees of the House (23 R and 30 D) and Senate (16 R 15 D).

That is a total of 120 House members and 52 senators. And we got swept. Virginia may be unique among the states with zero representation on any of those committees.

Even the non-voting D.C. and Virgin Islands representatives each got a seat – Eleanor Holmes Norton on Appropriations and Stacey Plaskett of the USVI on Transportation and Infrastructure.

So don’t expect any leverage for Virginia in an infrastructure or water resources development bill.

Or anything that goes through the Appropriations committees, which is everything.

The only possible reasons that neither of Virginia’s senators and none of Virginia’s representatives have those assignments is that they are not interested or they don’t have enough leverage with the leadership to get them.

And when I dealt with Congress years back everyone clawed to get assigned to an appropriations committee.

Perhaps our Congressional delegation can explain.

I can’t.

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4 responses to “For Virginia, Nobody’s Home in the Congressional Infrastructure and Appropriations Committees

  1. Some of the reason may be that Virginia has a relatively “young” (in terms of seniority) delegation. There has been a lot of turnover in recent years.

    Another reason is that the Virginia delegation tends to gravitate to the Armed Services Committees, which do handle some infrastructure issues. Wittman and Luria are on House Armed Services and Kaine is on Senate Armed Svs.

    The others have seats on other “power” committees:
    House:
    MacEachin–Energy and Commerce
    Scott–Budget and chair of Education and Labor
    Beyer–Ways and Means (taxation)
    Wexton–Financial Services (banking)
    Connoly–Foreign Affairs

    Senate:
    Warner–Budget, Intelligence, Finance
    Kaine–Foreign Relations, Budget, Armed Services

    The Appropriations Committees of both houses have become less important, while the Budget Committees have gotten more important.

  2. I don’t share your view that the Appropriations Committees have become less important. And the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works and the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure do what I wrote that they do. I used to track water infrastructure bills up there. When I did so Louisiana, Texas and California dominated the committees, and their needs dominated the bills.

    • The Virginia delegation has been successful in getting approval for its water infrastructure projects. https://www.warner.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/2018/10/warner-kaine-successfully-include-virginia-projects-in-final-bipartisan-water-infrastructure-bill

      • Dick, when I recommended to the General Assembly that the state serve as the sponsor for hurricane and storm damage reduction projects, I estimated that it would take something like $30 million of state money for USACE to conduct feasibility studies to identify cost effective hurricane and flood damage protection projects statewide.

        Once that is done, the most promising projects could proceed to preconstruction planning, engineering and design, which is funded 65% by the federal government and 35% by the sponsor.

        Once that step is complete, then Virginia representatives in Congress will need to help it compete for the real money, which is construction funding shared at the same federal/sponsor ratio as the reconstruction planning.

        To give some reference for the Army Corps of Engineers Civil Works program, the President’s FY 2017 Budget provided $4.6 billion in funding for the entire program. This includes:
        – Emphasizing investments in construction projects that will yield high economic and environmental returns or address significant risks to public safety.
        – Investing in restoring significant aquatic ecosystems.
        – Supporting maintenance and related activities at the Nation’s most heavily used coastal ports and inland waterways.

        I will categorize the projects touted in the Warner press release.

        The bill in question was 115TH CONGRESS 2D SESSION,
        S. 3021
        IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES – Suspend the Rules and Pass the Bill, S. 3021, With Amendments
        SEPTEMBER 5, 2018

        “SEC. 1201. AUTHORIZATION OF PROPOSED FEASIBILITY STUDIES.
        The Secretary is authorized to conduct a feasibility study for the following projects for water resources development and conservation and other purposes.”

        This is where the Tangier Island and Coastal Virginia studies are included. Since 2012, Corps feasibility studies have been guided by the “3x3x3 rule,” which states that feasibility reports will be produced in no more than three years; with a cost not greater than $3 million; and involve all three levels of Corps review – district, division and headquarters – throughout the study process. Some complex studies may require additional time or funds but those are the exception rather than the rule. The $3 million by law is 50% federal money and 50% local sponsor money.

        I am not sure where the $1.5 million of local sponsor money for each study came from, but this is a good thing.

        “SEC. 1203. EXPEDITED COMPLETION.
        24 (a) FEASIBILITY REPORTS.—The Secretary shall expedite the completion of a feasibility study for each of the following projects, and if the Secretary determines that the project is justified in a completed report, may proceed directly to preconstruction planning, engineering, and design of the project”

        The reason the project is this far along is that Norfolk was one of nine focus areas on the East Coast identified in an analysis of regional flood resilience needs following Hurricane Sandy in 2012. The military presence was the primary factor.

        The project for coastal storm risk management in Norfolk is one of 30 authorized for expedited feasibility reports.

        SEC. 1403. NORFOLK HARBOR AND CHANNELS, VIRGINIA
        Authorizes modifications to an existing project “as long as the maximum authorized cost for the project described shall not be modified for the improvements and modifications authorized”. In other words, USACE modified the original plans approved for execution and told Congress that the modification would not require an additional appropriation.

        So while worthy projects, the ones touted by Sen. Warner build nothing.
        The hardest part in approval for construction is yet to come, and that work is done in the committees if and only if the Virginia sponsors can guarantee their share of the cost.

        The Commonwealth, as shown in the defeat of my bill in the GA, is not even in the business of trying to come up with that kind of money.

        So any talk and press releases about Virginia investment in hurricane and flood damage reduction at Louisiana and Texas levels is pretty much all a sham. And I suspect Warner knows it.

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