CROmnibus Analysis Blog

CROmnibus Analysis Blog

Budget & Tax  | Research & Analysis
Dec 9, 2014  | 49 min read

The eagerly anticipated CROmnibus, that will provide funding for the federal government for fiscal year 2015, has finally been released

It’s worth noting how we got here. The $1.014 trillion funding level was established in December of 2013 by the Bipartisan Budget Act. So, despite a head start, by the end of the fiscal year 2014 (September 30, 2014) the House had passed just seven of the dozen annual spending bills. The Senate had passed zero. Neither chamber even wrote a Labor/HHS spending bill. So a continuing resolution was adopted to fund the government until December 11, 2014. The plan was to enact an omnibus in the interim that contained all one dozen bills. After the Executive Order on immigration, the decision was made to include eleven bills and provide shorter term funding for the Department of Homeland Security (through Feburary 27th). 

Now, very shortly before the current continuing resolution expires, the FY15 CROmnibus was posted on the House Rules Committee web site. Taxpayers for Common Sense will be scouring the bill and posting our findings here. Come back often to get updates and stay informed.

 

 


Pulling the String, Exhibit A: Extra Million for Wheeling Heritage Area

(December 15, 12:45pm)

It goes without saying, but legislation is often written to make it hard for the public to know what the legislation actually does. Anytime we see and oblique reference to some other legislation we start pulling the string. So when we read in the Interior section of the Joint Explanatory Statement that the CROmnibus included “language addressing a national heritage area in Wheeling, WV” we were curious.

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So we looked at the bill and on page 724, there’s a section (120) on Heritage Areas and paragraph (b) refers to a law passed in 2000 citing a specific section and replacing $10 million with $11 million. So now we’re talking cash and we’re really interested.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Public law 106-291 was enacted on October 11, 2000 and was huge piece of legislation dealing with a litany of land issues. Sec. 157 creates the Wheeling National Heritage area and in paragraph (h) authorizes it to receive no more than $10 million (no more than $1 million in any given year) and expires Sep. 30, 2015. The CROmnibus provision was part two of a two stage effort. The first stage fixed the expiration date. A provision on page 1,295 of the recently passed FY15 National Defense Authorization Act also amended Public Law 106-291 to keep the Wheeling Heritage Area authorized through fiscal year 2021. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[…]

 

 

 

It takes a while to pull the string and find the little policy bomblets littered throughout the more than 2,800 pages of legislation and explanatory materials. Lawmakers count on the fact that few will make the effort, hoping to keep what they've done out of the sunlight. But that's why it's all the more important to do so, and why here at TCS, we'll keep on pulling.

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One Of These Days These Boots Are Gonna Walk All Over You!

(December 15, 12:45pm)

The Small Business Administration (SBA) sets the number of employees a company may have in various lines of work and still be considered a “small business.” This should be a fairly non-controversial function but often is not due to the brisk competition for government contacts under small business set aside programs.

In 2012, new standards were put in place by SBA that doubled the size of a “small business” in footwear manufacturing from 500 to 1000 employees.  And this got the Bates division of Wolverine Worldwide, based in Michigan, ready to march on Washington. This summer the Michigan Congressional delegation took the issue to the SBA but were, it seems, not satisfied by its response.

How do we know? Because in the Department of Defense section of the CROmnibus, we found this gem:

“The agreement notes that the Small Business Size Standards adopted by the Small Business Administration on October 1, 2012 could have a detrimental impact on the domestic supply base for military footwear. The Defense Logistics Agency (DLA), which is responsible for managing the acquisition of military footwear, aims to maintain the health of this supply base and preserve surge capacity for times of extreme demand. It is acknowledged that both of these goals may be affected by the new size standards. The agreement directs the Director of the Defense Logistics Agency to submit a report to the congressional defense committees not later than 60 days after the enactment of this Act that provides an estimate of the impact of the new size standards upon the supply base for military footwear, the potential impact to maintaining adequate surge capacity within the supply base, and the steps that DLA will take to ensure that both this surge capacity and the overall health of the supply base will be maintained under the  new size standards for the footwear industry.”

And, like the report on lightweight carbon fiber composite  ladders we found earlier this year in the House version of the Defense policy bill, Congress is asking for a report and, in the same breath, telling the agency what its answer should be.

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Self-Defeating DHS CR

(December 13, 4:30pm)

The Department of Homeland Security spending bill put the CR in CROmnibus. The idea behind this was to retain some pressure on the Administration over the recent Executive Order on immigration enforcement. Leaving aside the merits/demerits of the EO, a quick look at the bill makes it evident that using appropriations to “fight” it is self-defeating at best, and harmful to other national, or even House majority, goals as well.

The CR continues funding for DHS at fiscal year 2014 levels until February 27, 2015 or basically a full 5 months into the fiscal year. That means that lawmakers are not changing any of the priorities that they sent in January 2014, when the last Homeland Security spending bill was enacted. Continuing Resolutions hamper agencies and increase long-term costs by preventing new initiatives, implementation of potentially cost-sharing measures, and hiring. DHS is not just immigration, so agencies like the Coast Guard and the Secret Service find themselves stymied and short-changed. The FY15 Homeland Security spending bill that the Appropriations Committee reported to the House on June 19, 2014 increased funding for some of these agencies. For example, besides increased funding for various acquisitions and operations, the Coast Guard was slated by the House to get $79.6 million more over FY14 levels. The House intended the Secret Service to get $53.6 million more than in FY14.

Even in the area of immigration enforcement, the CR is forestalling some of the changes the House adopted back in June. For instance, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Enforcement and Removal Operations was slated to get $156.7 million more than in FY14, including $70.7 million more for the Criminal Alien Program and $25.7 million more for Fugitive Operations. None of those increases will occur under the CROmnibus.

Operating by continuing resolution is a loser for Congress, agencies, and the taxpayer. It is inefficient and virtually ensures inefficiency and waste. It’s bad enough that the vast majority of government has operated under CR for almost a full quarter of fiscal year 2015, it is too bad that DHS will have to suffer under one for almost half a fiscal year.

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Stocking Stuffers in Pentagon Spending

(December 12, 1:30pm)

The Pentagon portion of the CROmnibus is liberally sprinkled with funding for programs the Pentagon either wants to end or never asked for in the first place. These are just the programs where the Pentagon requested NO funding, and the Congress funded anyway.

Grand total: $3.38 billion. That’s a lot of candy canes.

We’ll keep updating this table as we find them, but here are just a few stocking stuffers for good little defense contractors.

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Memo to Secretary of Defense: We’ve got some good news and we’ve got some bad news…

(December 11, 4:25pm)

Yesterday we wrote about the provisions in the Pentagon portion of the CROmnibus that cut funding for civilian employees. Plans to hire people were labeled “unjustified” and scuttled.

This piqued our interest and we took a look at the section of the bill that funds the Office of the Secretary of Defense – versus those sections of the bill funding the military services, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, etc. Of the sixteen individual line items called out for changes from the budget request, eleven were cut by the Congress.

Among the increases – $8 million to get the Pentagon ready for an audit.

Among the cuts – all funds that could possibly be used to support a future round of base closure. Sigh.

A classic good news/bad news story.

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National Sea-Based Deterrence Fund

(December 11, 3:00pm)

As we have been talking and writing about, the Pentagon policy bill included a new funding line for the next generation of ballistic missile submarines. This bizarre idea would mean the new submarine would not be funded by the Navy but, instead, in the so-called “Defense wide” budget. The “reasoning” behind this is that, supposedly, submarines are a national asset.

Where does faulty logic like this end? Aren’t silo-based ballistic missiles also national assets? How about long range bombers? Tanks?

Our thoughts on this are pretty simple – the Navy budget is where Navy weapon systems belong.

For this reason we’re very pleased to see the Appropriations Committees – the only committees that can actually cause checks to be written – did not also create such a fund in the Defense-wide portion of the CROmnibus.

We’ll take our wins where we can get them in this massive legislation.

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More Mox

(December 11, 12:20pm)

The CROmnibus provides $345 million for continued construction of the MOX Fuel Fabrication Facility, located at Savannah River in GA. In March, DOE’s budget requested putting construction of the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility (MOX) in “cold-standby.” TCS welcomed the proposal. With escalating costs and schedule delays, the need to review the project and consider other alternatives is long overdue. The CROmnibus “includes statutory language that prohibits the [National Nuclear Security Administration] NNSA from using funds to place the project in cold standby in fiscal year 2015.” It requires the NNSA submit to the Appropriations Committees “an independently-verified lifecycle cost estimate for the option to complete construction and operate the MOX facility.” Add this one to the many (wrong) cost estimates for this facility over the years.

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Splurging on Nuclear Energy

(December 11, 11:10am)

In total, the CROmnibus provides $913 million to the Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Nuclear Energy programs. That’s $24.3 million more than last year, and $50.1 million more than DOE requested this year. The majority of the additional funding is directed towards the Department’s research and development (R&D) programs. Of particular note, $431 million was directed to three programs – Nuclear Energy Enabling Technologies, Reactor Concepts RD&D, and Fuel Cycle R&D. That was also $60.4 million more than last year, $63.1 million more than DOE wanted this year, and more than either the House or Senate provided in their individual appropriations bills last summer.

The bill reduces the Small Modular Reactor (SMR) Licensing Technical Support program by $42.5 million, but only because one of the program’s recent awardees divested from their SMR project. While we’re happy they didn’t make the mistake of handing any more money over to a fledgling project, appropriators should’ve taken a cue from industry and cut the program all together.

Here’s a comparison of how the top line Nuclear Energy and Nuclear Energy R&D appropriations compare to fiscal year 2014 (FY14) and DOE’s budget request.

(in thousands $)

CROmnibus

Compared to FY'14 Level

Compared to DOE Budget Request

Nuclear Energy

913,500

+ 24,310

+ 50,114

(% difference)

 

+ 2.66%

+ 5.49%

Nuclear Energy R&D

498,500

+ 9,870

+ 30,614

(% difference)

 

+ 1.98%

+ 6.14%

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Aircraft Procurement: More, More, More

(December 11, 10:00am)

As we wrote earlier, the F-35 makes out like a bandit in the Pentagon portion of the CROmnibus. Already the most expensive procurement program in the bill (when you aggregate the 34 planes for the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps) the money for another 4 planes totals very close to an additional half a billion dollars.

In many of our writings about the F-35, we point out that current aircraft in the United States arsenal are among the most capable in the world. This includes the F-15E, F/A-18, EA-18G, F-16, F-18, and A-10. And our analysis shows that upgrading and maintaining all of these aircraft would cost considerably less than the massive price tag for the F-35.

So, while we were glad to see additional funding for F-15 radar modernization ($115 million), keeping A-10s in the active Air Force ($320 million), and buying more EA-18Gs ($1.5 billion), we were disappointed to see a long series of cuts to Navy F-18 modernization programs – although Marine F-18s will be modernized. Confusing, we know.

But we would like to point out some simple math: The Pentagon can only save money by modernizing existing aircraft if they don’t also buy the F-35.

Modernizing existing aircraft and buying the F-35 is the exact opposite of fiscal discipline. And it certainly doesn’t show any inclination in the Congress to actually make a decision.

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Corps of Engineers Civil Works Slush-y Funds

(December 11, 9:30am)

Under the CROmnibus the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Civil Works division is appropriated $15 million more than last year, but after a rescission of $28 million in unobligated funds, the net appropriation is $5,454,500,000. This is $921 million more than the President requested in his budget.

FY2015 Army Corps of Engineers Budget  
 2014 Omnibus2015 OmnibusDifference
Investigations$125,000,000$122,000,000($3,000,000)
Construction$1,656,000,000$1,639,489,000($16,511,000)
MR&T$307,000,000$302,000,000($5,000,000)
O&M$2,861,000,000$2,908,511,000$47,511,000
    
    
Regulatory$200,000,000$200,000,000$0
FUSRAP$103,499,000$101,500,000($1,999,000)
Flood and Coastal$28,000,000$28,000,000$0
Expenses$182,000,000$178,000,000($4,000,000)
Asst Sec of Army$5,000,000$3,000,000($2,000,000)
    
Recission$0($28,000,000)($28,000,000)
    
    
Total$5,467,499,000$5,454,500,000($12,999,000)

Besides appropriating much more than the President requested, the CROmnibus continues another troubling trend. Unlike many other agencies, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ budget is built project-by-project. The President typically requests funding for specific water projects throughout the country. Congress says yes or no, tweaks the project allocations and, at least in years past, adds hundreds of more projects onto the list. But appropriating funds to specific projects that are not requested by the administration is earmarking and thus violates the earmark moratorium.

To get around this restriction, since 2012 the Appropriations Committees have added millions of dollars into slush-y funds covering various areas of the Corps budget. These funds are intended “for work that either was not included in the Administration's request or was inadequately budgeted” and the Corps has wide discretion.

Slushy Funds Contained in Energy and Water Portion of FY2015 Omnibus Bill 
      
 InvestigationsConstructionMR&TO&MTotal
General Flood & Storm Damage Reduction$6,264$141,845  $148,109
Dredging (MR&T only)  $6,400 $6,400
Flood Control$7,800$95,000$29,600 $132,400
Shore Protection$4,400$45,000  $49,400
General Navigation$5,000$95,000 $45,000$145,000
Coastal & Deep-Draft Navigation$4,100  $165,000$169,100
Inland Navigation$4,000  $42,000$46,000
Inland Waterways Trust Fund Projects $112,000  $112,000
Small, Remote, or Subsistence Navigation$2,200  $42,500$44,700
Other Authorized Project Purposes$4,100$25,000$21,000$35,000$85,100
Environmental Restoration or Compliance (other)$2,000$13,000  $15,000
Environmental Infrastructure (other) $50,000  $50,000
Hydropower (other) $6,200  $6,200
TOTALS$39,864$583,045$57,000$329,500$1,009,409

These funds now account for over $1 billion of the Corps appropriation. In fact in the Construction account, they’re more than 1/3 of the total appropriation.

This is troubling because, while there are some criteria for how the Corps should allocate the funds, Congress falls woefully short of articulating a robust prioritization system that focuses funding on the best projects. Instead of appropriating a billion dollars and relying on the Corps to decide where to spend the money, Congress should undertake the tough task of balancing the various needs of communities in a fiscally responsible manner. 

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(December 10, 6:30pm)

Speed Reading Paper Weight

While the actual CROmnibus legislation is 1,603 pages long, when you add in all the explanatory text (which expounds and explains what was written in the bill in – well –legalese) you get another 1,274 pages, pushing the total to 2,877 pages in length. Your average 500 sheet ream of copier paper is about 2 inches thick and weighs five pounds. That would put the CROmnibus at nearly a foot tall (11 ½ in.) and almost 30 pounds (28.7 lbs.)

The bill came out after 8 PM on Tuesday, and the House is expected to vote on it Thursday, which would technically meet the requirement of legislation being available for three days  (Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday) though not the spirit of the rule (72 hours). Coincidently, Thursday is the day the current continuing resolution funding government expires. If the vote comes at 8 PM Thursday – 48 hours after it was released – House members will have had to pull two all-nighters and read at a pace of a minute a page to get through the whole bill. Yeah, right. 

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(December 10, 5:56pm)

Working the Equation Backwards

Anytime you see something in the bill that is drafted to look generic but is a bit awkward merits a closer look. So when we came across a provision in the Agriculture portion of the CROmnibus that twice set aside grant funding for “a qualified national organization to provide technical assistance for rural transportation” we were naturally curious. Once for a $500,000 grant and again for a $250,000 grant.

After some searching, lo and behold, there is “a qualified national organization to provide technical assistance for rural transportation” out there. The Community Transportation Association of America (CTAA). A quick search of the U.S. Department of Agriculture web site reveals that CTAA has been the go-to recipient of this recurring grant for years. This doesn’t mean that there is necessarily anything wrong with CTAA getting the work, but it's a good example of Congress working the equation backwards to ensure the outcome.

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(December 10, 4:00pm)

Senseless Support for SMRs

Despite the program’s recent struggles and setbacks, the bill provides $54.5 million to the Department of Energy’s Small Modular Reactor (SMR) Licensing Technical Support initiative. The program selected two companies to receive up to $452 million in matching funds last year, but each of the recipients has since shown an unwillingness to invest in SMRs.

After its subsidiary was picked to receive up to $252 million in April 2013, Babcock & Wilcox (B&W) began looking for other investors to meet its cost-share obligations with DOE. Unable to find anyone willing to take even a minority stake in its SMR subsidiary, B&W has cut back its spending. Before B&W’s decision to divest, its subsidiary had already received over $100 million.

The bill rightly prohibits DOE from spending more on the program’s first recipient, but failed to learn from prior mistakes by continuing funding for the second awardee – NuScale, a subsidiary of Fluor Corporation.  Fluor’s CEO has acknowledged in a number of calls to investors that they’re looking to sell down their share in NuScale. They managed to find at least a little support from Enercon in March, but Fluor might still be looking to divest some of its NuScale holdings.

If anything, appropriators should have followed the lead of the Senate draft of the bill, which refused to provide the program any further funding and suggested it use the $85 million in prior year funds it still has.

Giving DOE $55 million more to pursue a technology the nuclear industry has walked away from is utterly senseless.

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(December 10, 3:17pm)

Farm Service (for nobody) Agency

The Agriculture section of the Omnibus includes a restriction on efforts by the United States Department of Agriculture to save taxpayer dollars by modernizing the sprawling bureaucracy of the Farm Service Agency (FSA). In the President’s budget request this year, USDA proposed $39 million in savings by closing or consolidating 250 un-staffed or underutilized FSA offices (there are currently approximately 2,500 offices across the country).

This isn’t the first time the restriction has surfaced. The 2008 farm bill imposed a two-year moratorium on FSA office closures or consolidations except for those that were located within 20 miles of another office or had two or fewer employees. Well, even that bar is too low. For while earlier this year USDA estimated 30 offices had no employees and 111 had just one employee and were within 20 miles of another office, not one dime can be spent closing or consolidating these empty or near empty offices.

With promised farm bill savings quickly drying up, Congress should be harvesting savings every chance they get rather than preserving empty office space throughout the country.

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(December 10, 2:10pm)

Civilian Compensation Increases Called “Unjustified”

Because of all the hue and cry about potential changes to military compensation, at TCS we did a “compensation” word search of the Defense portion of the CROmnibus. And what we found wasn’t what we expected.

In almost every instance where “compensation” occurs in the language, the words “unjustified” or “justification lacking” appears nearby. In other cases, “hiring lag.” But in all cases, these discouraging words are directed at civilian employees of the Pentagon.

So, under the overall Operations and Maintenance title we find, “The agreement supports a strong civilian workforce for the Department of Defense. However, the fiscal year 2015 budget request substantially overestimates the number of civilians that will be employed during fiscal year 2015.” And this verbiage precedes a cut of $192.3 million from the civilian personnel accounts.

At TCS we’re glad to see some fiscal discipline at the Department of Defense. But in this case the money is just being shifted to some other program, allowing Congress to plus up the programs it likes while still staying within the budget caps. And we do note, with interest, that this language differs sharply from how senior Members of Congress recently referred to the modest changes in military compensation proposed by the Administration.

But we’re sure all those civilian employees are heartened to know the Congress supports a strong civilian workforce.

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(December 10, 1:07pm)

What’s the Actual Price Tag?

The Bipartisan Budget Agreement (BBA) set the funding levels for fiscal year 2015 at $1.013 trillion. $521.272 billion for defense and $492.356 billion for non-defense. The appropriators say it’s a $1.013 trillion bill, but the media keeps saying $1.1 trillion. While it’s “only” an $87 billion difference, that’s more than every federal agency's discretionary funding with the exception of the Department of Defense. For comparison’s sake, the FY15 discretionary budget request for the next closest agency would be Health and Human Services at about $74 billion. So, $13 billion LESS.  For $13 billion we could throw in the Department of Treasury as well.

A look at the Congressional Budget Office score helps explain. First off, there is budget authority (how much agencies can spend) and outlays (the spending as it actually occurs.) Budget authority this year, may lead to outlays next year. Also, outlays in fiscal year 2015 may be from a previous year budget authority. So budget authority is the agreed upon barometer of a bill’s budget score. Regular appropriations budget authority is what counts for meeting the BBA requirement. Regular appropriations does not include money in the Overseas Contingency Operations account, disaster, program integrity, or funding classified as “emergency.” So according to CBO, the appropriators nailed it. Outlays will be a little extra, coming in at $1.152 trillion. If you include all the non-regular appropriations you get $1.1 trillion (well, $1.09966 trillion, but you get the point). The outlays will be $1.189 trillion ($1.188927 trillion).

The saying goes: figures lie and liars figure. However, in this case the appropriators are talking about regular budget authority and meeting the requirements of the BBA. And the media is talking about the total budget authority, which is what fiscal year 2015 will actually cost taxpayers.  

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(December 10, 12:43pm)

Regional Commissions

The five regional commissions that continue to receive funding would get about $26.3 million more in the CRomnibus compared to the Administration’s request and about $9.7 million more than last year. Most of the increase would goes to the Appalachian Regional Commission, with $10 million “provided to continue the program of high-speed broadband deployment in distressed counties within the Central Appalachian region that have been most negatively impacted by the downturn in the coal industry,” and $10 million “to support a workforce training program in Southern Appalachia, primarily focused on the automotive supplier industry.”

Regional Commissions

FY14 Request

FY14 Enacted

FY15 Request

Crominbus

Compared to Request

Compared to FY14

Appalachian Regional Commission

64,618

80,317

68,200

90,000

+ 21,800 (32%)

+ 9,683 (12%)

Delta Regional Authority

11,319

12,000

12,319

12,000

– 319 (-3%)

+ 0

Denali Commission

7,396

10,000

7,396

10,000

+ 2,604 (35%)

+ 0

Northern Border Regional Commission

1,355

5,000

3,000

5,000

+ 2,000 (67%)

+ 0

Southeast Crescent Regional Commission

250

250

+ 250

+ 0

Totals

84,688

107,567

90,915

117,250

+ 26,335 (29%)

+ 9,683 (9%)

Established by Congress to provide funding for economic development in historically distressed areas of the country, the commissions were supposed to coordinate federal, state, and local actions in key areas of need such as infrastructure development and poverty alleviation by distributing congressionally appropriated funds to state and local agencies, governing boards, and nonprofits for projects in poor, resource-strapped communities. Although created with a benevolent purpose in mind, these entities can no longer be considered the economic growth engines that they were intended to be, but rather taxpayer-supported slush funds for state-based projects that should not be federally-funded.

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(December 10, 12:30pm)

You’ve got a Friend, USEC

For a second year in a row, Congress has seen fit to appropriate money to United States Enrichment Corporation (USEC), despite its financial failings and the fact that DOE requested zero for the company. Maybe they got fooled by the new name?  USEC recently emerged from bankruptcy on September 30, 2014 as Centrus Energy but its financial outlook hasn’t changed except that the CROmnibus provides $97.2 million to Centrus/USEC.

Sadly, the USEC funding isn’t too surprising. Last year, Congress appropriated nearly $119 million to the company just weeks after it announced intentions to file for bankruptcy. The money prolonged and sustained a research, development, and demonstration program (RD&D) that the Department of Energy had been funding since June, 2012, after the company’s American Centrifuge Project (ACP) faltered. After USEC formally filed for bankruptcy in March, DOE chose to put support for the program on hold.  Since then, ownership of the ACP has been transferred to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, which has kept USEC on as a project subcontractor. But facing continued setbacks, DOE eliminated all funding for the ACP in its budget request for the second year in a row.

On the bright side, the CROmnibus includes language prohibiting use of the Centrus money for new centrifuge construction. The bill directs DOE to conduct a “bottoms-up” reevaluation of its tritium stockpile and a cost-benefit analysis of all domestic uranium enrichment options. In a separate provision, the bill outlines new reporting requirements for uranium transfers following a GAO report concluding that DOE had previously transferred uranium to USEC illegally

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(December 10, 12:05pm)

Fossil Energy Research and Development (R&D)

The CROmnibus would continue the trend of yearly increases in federal spending on research and development for fossil fuels. The FY15 spending would rise to $571 million, roughly 2 percent more than Congress appropriated for the program last year. The administration only requested $475.5 million for the program, but Congress has increased this amount by $95.5 million.

(in thousands $) FY2012FY2013FY2014CROmnibus
Fossil Energy R&D347,000494,969562,065571,000
% increase over previous year 43%14%2%

As we have said before, everyone knows that U.S. oil and gas production is booming, padding the profits of oil and gas companies to near record levels. So why are legislators increasing federal supports for the industry? 

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(December 10, 11:57am)

House Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE)

The OCE was created to address the failure of the Ethics Committee to investigate allegations of misconduct against Members, officers, and staff of the House of Representatives. If the allegation appears valid, the matter is referred to the Ethics Committee. This process has worked, although there have been bipartisan efforts to shut the office down. The Legislative Branch Appropriations (Division H) includes $1.467 million for the OCE, roughly $0.018 million less than requested by the Administration. The amount in the CROmnibus is the same amount the OCE received in FY14. These levels are a slight decrease from OCE funding in FY12, when the OCE was appropriated $1.548 million.

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(December 10, 11:42am)

Export-Import Bank

Funds are made available for the activities of the favor factory of corporate welfare Export-Import Bank. This trade promotion entity is like your appendix—if there was ever a legitimate use for it, that has long passed—and continues pretty much unchanged. $106.25 million is made available for Administrative Expenses to cover the bank’s direct lending, loan guarantees, and other expenses in fiscal year 2015, though the potential price tag for taxpayers is much higher. The financial commitments the Ex-Im makes are backed by the full faith and credit of the U.S. Treasury, meaning in the case of default, it’s taxpayers who are on the hook. Currently the Ex-Im has nearly $114 billion in liabilities. 

The bank’s overall authority to make new financial commitments expires on June 30, 2015 after receiving a nine-month lifeline in the short term CR that is set to expire on Thursday. Taxpayers can only hope lawmakers will take the opportunity next year to extinguish the Ex-Im for good.

One positive note, funding for the Inspector General of the Export-Import Bank is bumped up nearly 13% to $5.75 million. They’re going to need it as the Bank is a hotbed of corruption with at least 74 documented cases of improper behavior since 2009.

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(December 10, 11:10am)

Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT)

First authorized in 1976, PILT provides funding for local governments to offset lost property tax revenue because of non-taxable federal lands in their community. PILT is a very big deal in Western states where the amount of land owned by the federal government is high. In recent years it has staggered along, getting an extension as part of the TARP bailout in 2008 (extended until 2012), a one year extension in the MAP-21 transportation bill in 2012, another one year, $410 million extension as part of the 2014 Farm Bill.

For 2015, the National Defense Authorization Act (yet to be enacted) had $70 million for PILT in 2015. Not to worry. Page 9 of the CROmnibus legislation steps up with an additional $372 million. It explicitly acknowledges the funding in the NDAA and directs that this be additive, bringing 2015 PILT funding to $442 million, a $32 million or nearly 8 percent boost from 2014.

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(December 10, 10:10am)

Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) accounts

Overall, the bill appropriates $63.9 billion for OCO. And, as we’ve written before, this level of funding far exceeds most federal departments. Only the full Department of Defense, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Education, and the Department of Veterans Affairs exceed the amount Congress has agreed to spend on OCO.

This section of the bill will bear deeper analysis, but the following things jump out at us:

Good news:

  • The new Counterterrorism Partnerships Fund received $1.3 billion. This doesn’t sound like good news until you consider that this is a $2.7 billion reduction from the original request.
  • Similarly, Congress gave the European Reassurance Initiative a mere $175 million. This appears to be a reduction of $750 million from the request. Not so fast. In fact, this is only a transfer within the OCO accounts. $635 million simply migrates to the Operations and Maintenance account for an aggregate reduction of $115 million from the request.

  • Other procurement, Navy was reduced by more than half to $123 million.

Bad news:

  • Classified programs for the Air Force receive a staggering $3.3 billion – about $175 million more than the $3.4 billion request. That means roughly 5% of the overall OCO request is going to classified programs for a single service.
  • The National Guard and Reserve Equipment Account – a slush fund within a slush fund – is funded at $1.2 billion. None of this money is requested in the budget and the Congress is at great pains to direct the Chiefs of the National Guard and Reserve components to give priority to a laundry list of specific programs – as close to “earmarking” as the laws allow.
  •  “Remanufacturing” of Apache helicopters – nowhere to be found in the Administration’s request – receives $144 million.
  • MQ-8 Fire Scouts are increased by $29 million to purchase three more.

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(December 10, 10:03am)

F-35 Procurement

On top of the Administration’s staggering request of $6.3 billion for the procurement of 34 new F-35 airframes, Congress added about a half billion dollars. The Air Force would get two more airframes than its original request of 26. The Navy would also get two additional F-35s – doubling its original request.

Subtotal: $479 million more for the most expensive procurement program in the fiscal year 2015 Pentagon request.

Grand total in just procurement funding for the F-35: $6.779 billion.

For more TCS analysis of the F-35, go to our resources page.

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(December 10, 9:30am)

Statement by Ms. Ryan Alexander, President, Taxpayers for Common Sense on the fiscal year 2015 Omnibus/Continuing Resolution legislation

The 113th Congress is wrapping up to its ignominious close. The good news is that lawmakers produced eleven spending bills to fund government in fiscal year 2015. The bad news is that fiscal year 2015 started three months ago, Congress will have little more than a few days to decide on over a trillion dollars worth of funding, and that there are actually twelve spending bills. The last one – Homeland Security – has been caught in the fight over immigration reform. The Department of Homeland Security, which includes the Coast Guard and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), gets a continuing resolution to fund the department at FY14 levels through February 27, 2015.

It's time to close the book on the 113th Congress. The only way we survive as budget watchdogs – and we've been at this for twenty years – is as being optimists. This Congress has seen the highway trust fund, comprehensive tax reform, and immigration reform hit the rocks. The total spending level for fiscal year 2015 was set by the Bipartisan Budget Agreement months before it would normally be known and lawmakers still couldn't get the work done on time.

We will analyze this bill and find various spending nuggets and legislative provisions, both good and bad, and then it's time to turn the page. The 114th Congress has a chance to start with a relatively blank slate. We urge lawmakers to roll up their sleeves, set aside electoral pandering, and start doing the peoples' business. There are challenges. The debt limit debate looms, transportation funding expires, setting FY16 funding levels, trade and immigration legislation. We want to work with you to achieve a government that works.

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