Our Take

TCS Omnibus Analysis Blog

TCS RSS Feed RSS
January 14, 2014

Links into Our Live Stream Analysis:

January 27, 2014
3:00pm: Omnibus Makes the DOE Loan Guarantee Program Less Transparent

January 16, 2014
3:30pm: Congress Gives USEC $62 Million Unconditionally, Despite Its Imminent Bankruptcy

January 15, 2014
5:45pm: Meddling in Medical R&D
4:45pm: Slush Funding for Water Projects
2:45pm: NIMBYs Making Nimble Moves in Defense Spending
1:30pm: Showering Small Modular Reactors with Subsidies
11:20am: Shipbuilding Splurge

January 14, 2014
6:15pm: Fossil Energy Funding
4:42 pm: Trimming Some Biofuels Blubber
4:30pm: Omnibus Stuffs Taxpayers on Flood Insurance Reforms
4:19pm: If It Walks Like an Earmark, and Talks Like an Earmark...
4:00pm: CBO Score of the Omnibus
3:43pm: Congress Continues to Lard Up the Corps of Engineers Budget
3:05pm: Earmark-Free Omnibus?
1:30pm: Spending on Defense Takes One Step Forward, and...
12:50pm: More TCS Insights on Agricultural Spending
11:45am: Congress Goes Nuclear
11:35am: Highlights of Agriculture Provisions in the Omnibus
11:22am: Carve-outs for Archaic Regional Commissions

January 13, 2014
8:08pm: Omnibus or Omnibust?

 


(January 27, 2014) 3:00 PM

Opaque Omnibus Creates More Opacity for the DOE Loan Guarantee Program

By forcing the 1582-page omnibus through Congress in around 69 1/2 hours, lawmakers appropriated $1.1 trillion dollars with an alarming lack of transparency.  As a result, few probably read the provision on page 422 that, fittingly, allows the Department of Energy (DOE) to make risky loans and loan guarantees with less transparency.   

Title XVII of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, as amended, authorized the DOE to guarantee $52 billion in loans to energy start-ups and other companies with un-commercialized technology by creating the Loan Guarantee Program (LGP).  Since its creation, DOE’s process of determining which projects to back with a loan guarantee has been worryingly opaque.  Annual reports by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) on the execution of the LGP have been one of the only ways to track how the DOE is risking taxpayer money.  A provision in the recent omnibus, however, reduces such crucial oversight by directing the GAO to review the LGP every three years instead of annually. 

As of March, 2013, the LGP had $34.8 billion in remaining loan guarantee authority, and the DOE could make an additional $16.6 billion worth of direct loans to car manufacturers through the closely associated Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing (ATVM) program. We know this because it was in the GAO’s annual report.

The decrease in oversight comes at a terrible time.  In December, the DOE issued its riskiest loan guarantee solicitation ever, and DOE Secretary Moniz recently indicated that the ATVM program might renew efforts to lend $16.6 billion to automakers.  Of course, it will be harder to know the status of the program because the GAO won’t be reporting on it frequently.

Using the flawed and opaque appropriations process to make DOE’s process of risking billions less transparent is just adding insult to injury.


(January 16, 2014) 3:30 PM

Congress Gives USEC $62 Million Unconditionally, Despite Its Imminent Bankruptcy

In a move that was as outrageous as it was unsurprising, appropriators included $62 million in the omnibus now being pushed through Congress for the United States Enrichment Corporation, or USEC. They even tacked on an additional $56.7 million in transfer authority, sweetening the total to possibly nearly $119 million.

Since being privatized in 1998, the Department of Energy (DOE) has funneled hundreds of millions to USEC through direct project financing and less directly, through uranium transfers.

Despite all the handouts, USEC has struggled financially for years – they’ve reported only six profitable quarters in the last five years, and only one quarter in the black since 2010. In May, the corporation announced it would be closing operations at its facility in Paducah, Kentucky, leaving the uranium enrichers without a means of enriching uranium. Throughout the summer of 2013, the company’s stock (NYSE:USU) performed so poorly that it was threatened with being de-listed from the stock exchange. Finally, after losing $1.8 billion in the three years prior to the fourth quarter of 2013, in December the company announced it would file for bankruptcy.

Evidently imminent bankruptcy is not a disqualifying factor for receiving federal funds, because appropriators decided to give $62 million to the moribund corporation anyway. The writers of the omnibus did stipulate, however, that DOE would have to submit a request to the House and Senate Appropriations committees if they want to give USEC some additional funding for fiscal year 2014 that’s already been set aside for them. If the request is approved, USEC could receive $56.7 million on top of the $62 million that was directly appropriated.

The first day of Economics 101, students are taught the concept of sunk costs – the idea that you shouldn’t throw good money after bad and every future dollar invested should be justified looking forward, not because of the money wasted in the past. Lawmakers must have skipped class that day.

Be sure to see our full post on the appalling appropriation here.


(January 15, 2014) 5:45 PM

Meddling in Medical R&D

Old habits die hard. Congressional earmarks have been prohibited since 2010. “Bridges to Nowhere” are scarce but that doesn’t mean Congress isn’t looking to fund pet projects in the huge FY14 Omnibus appropriations bill.

At Taxpayers for Common Sense, we have frequently pointed out Congressional meddling in the area of medical research. Following a process perfected back in the 1990s, Congress has funded medical research not where you would expect to find it – the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) – but in the Pentagon budget. Because where better to get funding for your medical research than the Department of Defense (DoD)? If this doesn’t make sense to you, or to us, you can bet it didn’t make sense to HHS or DoD when Congress started doing it. After initial protests from both departments, this budgeting maneuver has become a standard procedure. And while some of the pet projects Congress funds this way, like research into Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), is of importance to DoD, we think you will agree that most of the research projects on this list should not be undertaken by the federal department created to plan for and fight the next war, but someone with a little more medical expertise such as HHS or the National Institute of Health.

See if you agree:

Research Program Area $ Funding in millions 
Alcohol and Substance Abuse Disorders   4
ALS (“Lou Gehrig’s Disease”) 7.5
Alzheimers 12
Autism 6
Bone Marrow Failure Disease 3.6
Breast cancer 120
Cancer 25
Duchenne muscular dystrophy 3.2
Lung cancer 10.5
Multiple sclerosis 5
Ovarian cancer 20
Prostate cancer 80
Tuberous Sclerosis Complex 6
Vision 10
Global HIV/AIDS prevention 8
HIV/AIDS program 7

 

Even the areas that are more tied to warfighting should be considered by experts in treating and dealing with medical issues. Here are some of those medical research programs.

Research Program Area $ Funding in millions
Gulf War Illness 20
Orthopedics 30
Spinal cord injury 30
Reconstructive transplants 15
Traumatic Brain Injury and psychological health   125
Joint Warfighter medical issues 100
Trauma clinical research repository 5
Orthotics and prosthetics outcomes 10
Therapeutic service dog training 4

 

The grand total for funding all of the above programs is $666.4 million. We understand this is not a “lot” of money when balanced against the size of the Pentagon budget. And we aren’t saying these aren’t important problems for medical research funding. But at TCS we believe Pentagon spending ought to be on actual Pentagon issues – not issues that could best be handled by the experts at HHS.

Included on the list of research to be funded is the blandly named “medical research.” An additional $200 million is added for this. And you might think, “Okay, at least the Pentagon medical experts can use this money to research issues of specific interest to the military.” But you would be wrong because Congress just can’t help themselves. Two pages later in the bill, we found this language, “Research areas considered under this funding are restricted to the following areas…” And what follows is a list of twenty five research issues from acupuncture, through food allergies to tinnitus (chronic ringing in the ears.)

Let’s review. At least $866 million is in the Pentagon budget to fund medical research that may or may not benefit military service members. Let’s put medical research money where it belongs: the Department of Health and Human Services. And while we’re at it, let’s stop the political meddling in the process.


(January 15, 2014) 4:45 PM

Slush Funding for Water Projects

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, adds or subtracts funds from each, and, in years past, added hundreds of more projects onto the list. (See our past post when these funds first appeared in FY 2012).

Under the earmark moratorium, piling on hundreds of additional projects is prohibited.  Thus starting in FY 2012 Congress created a number of “slush-y” funds to funnel more cash to the Corps without violating the earmark moratorium.  These pots of money are intended, in the words of the Appropriations Committees, “for work that either was not included in the administration's request or was inadequately budgeted.” The problem is that many of the funds end up being spent on highly parochial projects that don’t rise to national importance or that, like with the $44 million on Environmental Infrastructure projects (EI). As an example EI projects don’t serve any national interest, are outside the Corps’ mission areas (draining funds from other important projects), and are duplicative of other federal programs. It’s worth noting that Corps Environmental Infrastructure projects have been opposed by every President since their creation and didn’t receive any funding in the Clinton, Bush, or Obama budgets.

The Omnibus not only continues this trend, but it appears Congress is doubling down on this slush-y fund strategy with more than three-quarters of a billion dollars.

Slush-y Funds Contained in Energy and Water Portion of FY2014 Omnibus Bill ($ in thousands)
  Investigations Construction MR&T O&M Total
General Flood & Storm Damage Reduction $3,632 $58,923     $62,555
Dredging (MR&T only)     $5,000   $5,000
Flood Control $8,000 $90,000 $14,000   $112,000
Shore Protection $5,000 $75,000     $80,000
General Navigation $5,000 $47,000   $25,720 $77,720
Coastal & Deep-Draft Navigation $6,000     $128,000 $134,000
Inland Navigation $4,000     $42,000 $46,000
Inland Waterways Trust Fund Projects   $81,500     $81,500
Small, Remote, or Subsistence Navigation $3,000     $40,000 $43,000
Other Authorized Project Purposes $2,000 $22,000 $9,000 $35,000 $68,000
Environmental Restoration or Compliance (other) $1,500 $15,000     $16,500
Environmental Infrastructure (other)   $44,000     $44,000
Hydropower (other)   $4,000     $4,000
Remote, Coastal or Small Watershed (other) $3,000       $3,000
TOTALS $41,132 $437,423 $28,000 $270,720 $777,275

 

Category Totals, Compared to Amounts Requested by Administration, House, &Senate ($ in thousands)
 

Request

House

Senate

Conference

 

Conference Increase Over Request

Conference Increase Over House

Conference Increase Over Senate

Investigations $90,000 $90,000 $120,000 $125,000   $35,000 $35,000 $5,000
Construction $1,350,000 $1,343,000 $1,542,000 $1,656,000   $306,000 $313,000 $114,000
MR&T $279,000 $249,000 $300,000 $307,000   $28,000 $58,000 $7,000
O&M $2,588,000 $2,682,000 $2,700,000 $2,861,000   $273,000 $179,000 $161,000
TOTALS $4,307,000 $4,364,000 $4,662,000 $4,949,000   $642,000 $585,000 $287,000

 


(January 15, 2014) 2:45 PM

NIMBYs Making Nimble Moves in Defense Spending

Most everyone has heard the acronym “NIMBY” for “Not In My Back Yard!” The defense section of the FY14 Omnibus is a strong indication the NIMBYs on the Hill are staying nimble for the fight against cuts to military bases or missions in their Congressional districts.

First, the Pentagon’s budget request included $8 million to begin the process of another round of base closures.  And we know how lawmakers love it when a group, not beholden to Congress or the Pentagon, starts looking for bases no longer needed by a shrinking and modernizing military! So, Congress removed the entire $8 million. And without any money appropriated for that purpose, the Pentagon can’t start the process of another round of base closures (BRAC).

Next, the Pentagon is prohibited from spending any money to conduct an analysis of the environmental impact of the silos that contain Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs.) The “Missile Caucus” in the Senate is ever vigilant against any review that might cast an unflattering light on this nuclear mission, a relic of the Cold War missile race with the Soviet Union.

Finally, it's clear that the Alaska delegation remains strong in the appropriations process. How do we know? The Air Force plan to transition elements of a particular F-16 squadron from Eielson Air Force Base to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson (also in Alaska!) was scuttled. Could this relate back to the first item on our list?  We think it does.  No Member of Congress wants to see missions moved from a military base in their backyard for fear that the base will then become vulnerable in any future round of base closure. But it's NIMBYism to an extreme when the Alaska delegation doesn’t want to see missions moved from one base in their state to another!


(January 15, 2014) 1:30 PM

Showering Small Modular Reactors with Subsidies

In case you didn’t catch it in the table below on Nuclear Energy spending, appropriators have not only decided to shower the nuclear industry with some perennial subsidies, but they’ve also decided to make it rain a little more than usual.  In particular, the omnibus dramatically increases spending for Small Modular Reactor (SMR) projects.

You may have seen that the Department of Energy (DOE) just made its second award of up to $226 million for the development of a NuScale SMR design.  They were actually planning on doing so when they released their budget request last March including $70 million for the SMR Licensing and Technical Support program.  Legislators considered that insufficient, apparently, and allocated an additional $40 million, or $110 million total, for the project. Originally, NuScale was set to receive the entire subsidy over five years. Handing out taxpayer money for research that companies should be doing themselves wasn’t enough, lawmakers had to hand out the money quicker.  

If you look closely at the omnibus, you’ll also see that appropriators gave DOE’s SMR “advanced concepts” R&D program $3 million more than they asked for.  In total, the omnibus spends $133 million for SMR’s, which is $37 million more than in 2012 and $43 million more than the DOE wanted.

Stay tuned for some positive news on the science funding subject. 

Small Modular Reactors Spending ($ in thousands)
Program FY '12 Approps  FY '13 Approps*  FY '14 Request  Omnibus
Small modular reactor licensing technical support 67,000 67,140 70,000 110,000
Reactor Concepts RD&D - SMR Advanced Concepts 28,674 - 20,000 23,000
Subtotal of SMR spending 95,674 - 90,000 133,000
*Source: DOE FY '14 Budget Justification Vol.3


(January 15, 2014) 11:20 AM

Shipbuilding Splurge

The Omnibus bill reveals that shipbuilders – and the Members of Congress who represent them – still hold sway in the Congressional appropriations process.  The Navy planned to retire seven cruisers and two amphibious ships.  These nine ships were all designed and first built in the early to mid-1980s.  Retiring them, rather than doing further modernizations, would save the Navy money.  But the shipbuilders (prime contractors like General Dynamics/Bath Iron Works division and Huntington Ingalls Industries) and the corporations building the propulsion and weapon systems on those ships (Lockheed Martin, General Electric) don’t want that; they want to build more ships.  At the very least, they want the contracts to modernize the current ships.

The omnibus bill notes, with a little bit of snark, “…the Navy again proposed to prematurely retire…” these nine ships.  Sorry Navy, you can keep trying but we don’t think you're going to succeed.  Instead, Congress directs the Secretary of the Navy to upgrade one of the cruisers starting immediately with FY14 money being appropriated in this bill.  The Secretary is also required to give Congress his plan for modernizing the rest of these ships between now and 2021.

Similarly, the shipbuilding community and the Congress have evidently heard rumors of the “premature retirement of capable Arleigh Burke class guided missile destroyers…”  Not so fast!  Congress rides to the rescue of the mega-contractors who make their profits building ships.  In the bill, the Secretary of the Navy is “directed to prioritize” the modernization of the Arleigh Burke class destroyers.

Finally, the Navy asked for $2.9 billion for the latest attack submarine in the Virginia class of submarines.  The Virginia class is built by both General Dynamics/Electric Boat division and Huntington Ingalls Industries.  This is a large chunk of the Navy’s overall request of $14 billion in its shipbuilding account.  But Congress added an additional $950 million – bringing the total to $3.88 billion for just this one type of submarine.  So, even in these days of tightening belts and a dawning realization that defense spending cannot stay on the upswing, Congress added close to a billion dollars to just this one line in the Navy’s budget.

It’s a good time to be in shipbuilding and a bad time for American taxpayers who think enough is enough for Pentagon spending.

 


(January 14, 2014) 6:15 PM

Fossil Energy Is Flush with Cash, Flushing Away Millions

If passed, the Omnibus will spend more money on Fossil Energy Research and Development (R&D) than Congress has in any of the last three years. 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?  And in tight fiscal times, why is Congress betting more on uproven Carbon Capture and Sequestration technologies? 

In total, the $562 million spent on Fossil Energy R&D in the Omnibus is $215 million more than in FY 2012, $67 million more than last year, and $141 million more than the Department of Energy DOE requested for this year. Of particular note, appropriators directed $10 million under the Unconventional Technologies heading (which the DOE didn't want at all) towards improving offshore oil exploration and production in "challenging conditions." They are sponsoring, in effect, what have become known as "Mega-Projects" in the oil and gas industry - risky, extravagant drilling projects in extreme conditions that yield uncertain returns. Let companies that stand to profit make gaudy investments in such endeavors; throwing taxpayer money at the industry is just frivolous.

For a breakdown of the Fossil Energy R&D Spending by subheading and year, see below.

Fossil Energy R&D Spending by Year ($ in thousands)
Fossil Energy R&D Programs  FY '12 Approps  FY '13 Approps*  FY '14 Request  Omnibus 
CCS and power systems:        
Carbon capture 68,938 - 112,000 92,000
Carbon storage 115,477 - 61,095 108,900
Advanced energy systems 100,000 - 48,000 99,500
Cross cutting research 49,163 - 20,525 41 ,925
NETL Coal Research and
Development
35,031 - 35,011 50,011
Subtotal, CCS and power systems 368,609 370,650 276,631 392,336
Natural Gas Technologies 15,000 15,083 17,000 20,600
Unconventional fossil energy technologies from petroleum-oil technologies 5,000 5,027 - 15,000
Program direction. 120,000 120,663 115,753 120,000
Plant and Capital Equipment 16,794 16,897 13,294 16,032
Fossil energy environmental restoration 7,897 7,945 5,897 5,897
Special recruitment programs 700 704 700 700
Use of prior year balances 0 0 -8,700 -8,500
Rescission of Prior Year Balances -187,000 -42,000 - -
TOTAL, FOSSIL ENERGY RESEARCH
AND DEVELOPMENT
347,000 494,969 420,575 562,065
*Source: DOE FY '14 Budget Justification Vol.3


(January 14, 2014) 4:42 PM

Trimming Some Biofuels Blubber

These programs have been wasting money for years, so we were happy to see that appropriators have gotten the message and started scaling back the subsidies for companies that don't need it.

Bioenergy Program for Advanced Biofuels

 $8 million was rescinded from the Bioenergy Program for Advanced Biofuels, a program that TCS has criticized in the past for providing taxpayer dollars to mature industries such as soy biodiesel and corn ethanol.

Biorefinery Assistance Program

 $40.7 million was rescinded from the Biorefinery Assistance Program, another program that TCS has recommended be cut because it provides taxpayer-backed loans for potentially risky projects that are unlikely to ever lead to commercial production of next-generation biofuels or bioenergy sources.


(January 14, 2014) 4:30 PM

Omnibus Stuffs Taxpayers on Flood Insurance Reforms

SEC. 572. None of the funds made available in this Act may be used to implement, carry out, administer, or enforce section 1308(h) of the National Flood Insurance Act of 1968 (42 U.S.C. 4015(h)).

This blocks section 207 of the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012 which directs FEMA to increase flood insurance premiums to full-risk rates for remapped properties at a pace of 20 percent a year. The provision only lasts through the end of fiscal year 2014, which ironically is before FEMA has indicated any of the rate changes would occur. This does not affect provisions dealing with home sales (automatically go to risk-based rates) or second homes, business, or severe repetitive loss properties (increase at a rate of 25 percent a year from existing rate).

There is a much farther reaching delay (four years) bill that the Senate is likely to consider in the coming days. A better alternative would be slowing down the speed of rate increases (making it 25 percent of existing rate for all properties) and targeting means-tested assistance to low-income homeowners with an emphasis of mitigation to reduce flood insurance rates.


(January 14, 2014) 4:19 PM

If It Walks Like an Earmark, and Talks Like an Earmark...

We're not the type to say I told you so, but here's another press release from a member of Congress claiming to have directed spending in the Omnibus for a particular pet project, even though earmarks are supposedly dead.

Excerpts of a press release from the office of Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS):

WASHINGTON, D.C. –U.S. Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), a member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations, today announced the Omnibus appropriations bill includes $404 million for construction of the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF) in Manhattan, Kan.

“For those who have questioned whether NBAF will be built in Kansas, the passage of this funding bill will provide a clear answer: yes,” Sen. Moran said. “This investment means Kansas will become a research epicenter, and the construction of this modern, world-class facility will ultimately create jobs for Kansans in the fields of engineering, science and technology. The talented young men and women who grow up here will have more opportunities to work and live in Kansas." [...]

Governor Sam Brownback [stated] “Many members of the Kansas Congressional delegation have worked tirelessly on this for many years, and I congratulate Senator Moran for helping to get it across the finish line.”

“As a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, I have worked to make certain NBAF remains a top priority for the Department of Homeland Security, the Administration and among Congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle,” Sen. Moran continued. “Thanks to Governor Brownback, the Kansas legislature and Kansas State University President Kirk Schulz for their leadership and support as this process continues....


(January 14, 2014) 4:00 PM

CBO Score of the Omnibus Is In

 The score of the Omnibus from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) reveals that appropriators stuck the spending caps agreed upon in the Bipartisan Budget Deal. It'll be interesting to see whether CBO scores of appropriation bills in 2022 and 2023 show that legislatros actually cut spending enough to offset  the splurge this year and the next like the deal promises.  

Get the CBO score here.


(January 14, 2014)  3:43 PM

Congress Continues to Lard Up the Corps of Engineers Budget

Continuing a theme seen in past Energy & Water Appropriations as well as the recent WRDA debates, the Omnibus continues to throw money at the Army Corps of Engineers to construct navigation, ecosystem restoration, and flood control projects throughout the country. 

There is a curious case of Congressional compromise where when the House and Senate negotiators were confronted with differing numbers for the same programs, they compromised on a final number greater than what was found in either chamber’s bill. Numbers are in millions.

  House FY14 Senate FY14 FY14 Omnibus
Investigations 90 120 125
Construction 1,343 1,542 1,656
Mississippi River and Tributaries 249 300 307
Operations and Maintenance 2,682 2,700 2,861
Regulatory 193 200 200
Formerly Utilized
Sites Remedial Action
104 195 103.499
Flood Control and
Coastal Emergencies
28 28 28
Expenses 182 182 182
Office of Assistant Secretary 5 5 5
       
Total Cost of Bill 4,876 5,272 5,467.5

A number of individual provisions should concern any fiscal conservative:

  • Barge interests continue their assault on decades-old rules requiring they cover 50% of the bill for navigation projects. With this Omnibus, the barge industry will now only be responsible for 25% of the cost for the boondoggle Olmsted Locks and Dam project. This project, originally authorized at $750 million, is more than a decade behind schedule and projected to cost over $3 billion. The Senate Energy and Water Appropriations bill stuck taxpayers with 100% of the project’s cost.
     
  • Cost overrun provisions are waived in FY14 and FY15 for any project receiving funds under the Omnibus. Current law prohibits further spending on any Corps project that reaches 120% of its original cost estimate until Congress reauthorizes the project. Waiving these provisions does nothing to identify why these projects are failing to meet the construction or cost schedules used to justify their authorization.
     
  • There are a number of projects receiving funds that were not in the President’s budget request, including $44 million for environmental infrastructure projects and millions more is made available in “Additional Funding” pots. The Corps is directed to use these funds “for work that either was not included in the administration's request or was inadequately budgeted.” These are slush-y funds that in years past have funded projects previously maintained through earmarking.


(January 14, 2014)  3:05 PM

Earmark-Free Omnibus?

Although the appropriations committee swears there are no earamrks, some lawmakrers seem to have a different persepctive and are taking credit for certain spending measures in the bill... 

From a press release from the office of Rep. Scott Peters (D- CA 52):

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Congressman Scott Peters (CA-52), Congresswoman Susan Davis(CA-53), and Congressman Juan Vargas (CA-51) announced that funds for Phase III of the San Ysidro Land Port of Entry infrastructure projects have been allocated in the recently announced federal omnibus spending bill. The advocacy of freshman members Peters and Vargas, combined with ongoing pressure from Davis and California Senators Feinstein and Boxer, helped push the Appropriations Committees to provide funds for San Ysidro in the package...

Similar press releases are sure to abound in the days to come.


(January 14, 2014) 1:30 PM

Spending on Defense Takes One Step Forward, and...

The Pentagon funding section of the Omnibus seems to take some steps to reduce wasteful spending on programs that do not make us safer or stronger.  That’s what it seems to do.  But we took a closer look.

In just the Operations and Maintenance (O&M) sections of the four military services, each of the services appears to be receiving a reduction to their individual O&M bottom lines.  See the chart below:

Service FY14 O&M request(In billions) FY14 Appropriated(In billions) Reduction(In billions)
Army $35.073 $30.768 $4.305
Navy $39.945 $36.311 $3.634
Marine Corps $6.254 $5.397 $0.857
Air Force $37.270 $33.248 $4.022

 

If you only look at the information on this level, it appears that each service is taking a reduction of at least 8% in their accounts that pay for the day-to-day operational needs of running a military department.  And that seems very frugal and in keeping with today’s budget environment.  Bravo, you might say!  But we looked at the details and found the real story.

Starting during the early days of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, the Pentagon proposed putting some of each year’s budget request into a separate annual budget request for “Overseas Contingency Operations.”  Predictably, the acronym-heavy Pentagon started referring to this as “OCO Funding.”  Having a separate budget request for OCO meant that the Pentagon budget request looked slightly less bloated, until you added the two numbers together (like we did.)  Funding for the wars seemed inviolable on the Hill at that time, and more and more money that should have been in the Defense Department “base budget” (non-war funding) seemed to be slipping over to the OCO side where it received far less Congressional scrutiny, at least publicly.

And, lo and behold, even though we are out of Iraq and on the verge of leaving Afghanistan, the OCO requests persist.  Look what we found when reading the detailed Defense funding tables (more than 300 pages of them) in the depths of the Omnibus Appropriations bill:

Service “Reduction” (In billions) Amount transferred to OCO (In billions) Actual reduction (In billions)
Army $4.305 $3.145 $1.160
Navy $3.634 $2.629 $1.005
Marine Corps $0.857 $0.700 $0.157
Air Force $4.022 $2.782 $1.240

 

Note that the Air Force, the military department least involved in the past decade of war, is allowed to move money to OCO, both in real dollars and as a percentage of the request, second only to the Army (the service most involved in the wars.) This is not a success story for deficit reduction, cutting bloated spending at the Defense Department, or even a realization that the war(s) are winding down.  The real story is that Congress and the Pentagon continue to collude on accounting sleight-of-hand made to look like belt tightening.


(January 14, 2014)  12:50 PM

More TCS Insights on Agricultural Spending

Citrus Greening

 The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service at USDA received an additional $20 million in one-time funding “to fight citrus greening, a disease [affecting] the [U.S.] citrus industry.” During the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on the USDA budget in April 2013, Representative Rooney (R-FL) asked USDA Secretary Vilsack how the President’s Budget request would affect research to eradicate the disease, noting that his south-central Florida district is an important production area for citrus.

 Watershed Rehabilitation Program

 The Watershed Rehabilitation Program received $12 million for “dam rehabilitation to help rural communities ensure their small watershed projects meet current safety standards,” according to the House Appropriations Committee. This program has historically funded dam projects in Georgia and Fairfax County, Virginia, to protect homes and another in Texas to protect agricultural land.

 International Food Aid Reform

 TCS supports international food aid reforms that were included in the President’s FY14 budget request, but unfortunately these were not included in the omnibus package. The President’s proposal would shift a large percentage of the food aid from being in-kind (food purchased domestically and shipped overseas) to cash and vouchers for local purchase, which is more cost-effective and yields aid sooner. This would shift funding out of USDA and into the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

 USDA Agricultural Research Service Building and Infrastructure Updates

 While the omnibus would put restrictions on the cost of constructing or improving USDA Agricultural Research Service buildings, among other restrictions, provisions wouldn’t “apply to modernization or replacement of existing facilities at Beltsville, Maryland.” The Chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee in charge of negotiating the omnibus is Senator Mikulski (D-MD).

 USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service

 The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service at USDA would receive $12.7 million for “the cotton pests program for cost share purposes or for debt retirement for active eradication zones”; $52.34 million for “avian health”; $151.5 million for “specialty crop pests”; $8.8 million for “field crop and rangeland ecosystem pests”; $54 million for “tree and wood pests”; $3.7 million for the National Veterinary Stockpile; $1.5 million for “the scrapie program for indemnities [for sheep and goats]”; and $1.5 million for the “wildlife damage management program for aviation safety.”

 USDA Rural Development Programs

 $3 million for grants to the Delta Regional Authority and $1 million for rural development loans in Mississippi Delta Region counties.

 USDA’s Electrification and Telecommunications Loans Program

 USDA’s Electrification and Telecommunications Loans Program received $2 billion for “the construction, acquisition, or improvement of fossil-fueled electric generating plants (whether new or existing) that utilize carbon sequestration systems.”


(January 14, 2014)  11:45 AM

Congress Goes Nuclear

Though the nuclear industry is well established and needs no help from the taxpayer, appropriators have decided to bump up spending on Nuclear Energy in the Omnibus for projects that amount to little more than industry subsidies.  In total, the legislator's Nuclear Energy spending is $121 more than in fiscal year 2012 (FY '12), $130 million more than in FY '13, and $154 million more than the Department of Energy (DOE) even asked for.  Here's a breakdown:

Nuclear Energy ($ in thousands) FY '12 Approps FY '13* FY14 Request Omnibus
Nuclear energy enabling technologies. 74,880   62,300 71,130
Integrated university program. 5,000   - 5,500
Small modular reactor licensing technical support .. 67,000   70,000 110,000
Reactor concepts RD&D. 115,544   72,500 113,000
fuel cycle research and development. 187,351   165,100 186,500
International nuclear energy cooperation. 3,000   2,500 2,500
Radiological facilities management 69,888   5,000 25,000
INL facilities Management 155,000   181,560 196,560
Idaho sitewide safeguards and security** -   94,000 94,000
Program direction 91,000   87,500 90,000
Use of prior year balances -1,367   -5,000 -5,000
TOTAL, NUCLEAR ENERGY. 768,663 759,000 735,460 889,190
*FY '13 was funded exclusively by continuing resolutions (CRs) that did not break down spending by sublevels.  
**Funding for Idaho Sitewide Safeguards and Security was appropriated in Other Defense Activities (Under 'Atomic Energy Defense Activities' under 'Environmental and Other Defense Activities') in FY '12 and FY '13

 

Here are some explanations of the spending categories:

Radiological Facilities Management

DOE request was low because the money was being shifted to the NASA budget. $5 million was just for maintenance of facilities at Idaho National Lab and Oakridge.  Omnibus provides the $20 million in new spending for "hot cells" at DOE's Oakridge Tennessee facility.

Idaho Facilities Management

Omnibus explanatory statement breaks down the $15 mill. above the DOE request as follows:

  • $2 million for fuel purchases,
  • $3 million for remote monitoring/management of Advanced Test Reactor,
  • $2 million for major equipment replacements,
  • $5 million for hot cell maintenance,
  • $3 million for "upgrades related to documented safety analysis"


(January 14, 2014) 11:35 AM

Highlights of Agriculture Provisions in the Omnibus

Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies

Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies spending in the omnibus totals $20.9 billion, above the FY13 level of $20.7 billion, slightly above the Senate Appropriations Committee-passed level of $20.7 billion and more than the $19.45 billion level passed by the House Appropriations Committee. Additional details follow.

Rural Energy for America Program

The Rural Energy for America Program (REAP), an initiative aimed at spurring rural business use of wind, solar, hydropower, and other renewable sources of energy but instead funds mature biofuels such as corn ethanol, received $3.5 million. More specifically, the program funds ethanol blender pumps which dispense higher levels of corn ethanol-gasoline blends (more than 10 percent ethanol), in addition to wasteful projects such as grain bin dryers, irrigation systems, oxygen monitoring systems for catfish farms, and construction of soy and waste vegetable oil biodiesel facilities. While a significant decrease from its FY11 spending level of $75 million, it is slightly higher than the FY13 level of $3.1 million. 

Biomass Carve-out in Forestry Budget

$10 million is provided under the Forest Service’s “State and Private Forestry” appropriation to create “incentives for increased use of biomass from National Forest System lands.” See our fact sheet outlining numerous other federal subsidies for the biomass industry. 

New National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility

$404 million is provided to construct a new National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF) in Manhattan, Kansas. According the Department of Homeland Security (which is working alongside the Department of Agriculture to construct the facility), “NBAF will be a state-of-the-art biocontainment facility for the study of foreign animal, emerging and zoonotic (transmitted from animals to humans) diseases that threaten the U.S. animal agriculture and public health… The Manhattan location puts the NBAF in proximity to research of NBAF-related missions in veterinary, agriculture, and bio-security research expertise, and resources. This location also puts NBAF in proximity to a major hub of the veterinary pharmaceutical industry. The NBAF will be built on a site on Kansas State University adjacent to the existing Biosecurity Research Institute.”


(January 14, 2014) 11:22 AM

Carve-outs for Archaic Regional Commissions

Tucked away in the Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies division of the Omnibus (division D) is a title funding a hodgepodge of Independent Agencies.  Among these are Regional Comissions that serve to guide money for infrastructure projects to whichever areas of the country that legislators see fit.  In this way, money flies out the door with scant guidelines for its use and nary an explanation for why it's needed.  Due to the arbitrary nature of the decisions guiding the spending, how much the various commissions are given can serve as a barometer of the power of the legislators representing each region.

Here's a breakdown of how much each commission was given in the Omnibus compared to the House and Senate Energy and Water Development bills:

Spending on Regional Commissions in Recent Appropriations Bills ($ in millions except as noted)

Regional Commission

President's FY '14 Budget

House E&W Bill

Senate E&W Bill

Omnibus

Appalachian Regional
Commission

64.6

70.3

68.2

80.3*

Delta Regional
Authority

11.3

11.3

12

12

Denali Commission

7.4

7.4

10

10

Northern Border
Regional Commission

1.4

1.4

5

5

Southeast Crescent
Regional Commission

0

250K

0

250K

Totals

84.7

90.4

27

107.3
*The bill claims a $10M increase from the President's budget for high speed internet, but this is more than $10M


(January 13, 2014) 8:08 PM

Omnibus or Omnibust?

 House and Senate appropriators released the text of the 1,500+ page Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2014 that combines the twelve appropriations bills needed to fund the government into one "Omnibus."  The measure extends Congress's prolonged streak of appopriating through massive spending bills or continuing resolutions rather than regular order.  The last time any of the twelve appropriations bills was passed individually was fiscal year 2010.  The last time all the appropriations bills were passed individually, and before the start of the fiscal year (Oct. 1), was in 1994.

It will be tough for legislators and their staffs to pour through this tome of federal spending before they're asked to vote on it in a few days time. Check back here for updates as we try and help them by releasing TCS analyses of the Omnibus as we read through it.

The Omnibus and the accompanying explanatory statement can be found here or downloaded by clicking below.

Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2014 - Rules Committee Print

A summary of the appropriations by bill is available here.

 

 

 


Filed under: Stop Waste, Prioritize Investments

Discussion
Weekly Wastebasket

Our weekly reality-check for federal spending. View All

July 25, 2014

Van Halen Port Policy

Panama! Panama-ah-ah-ah! The lyrics from the eponymous Van Halen song from the 1980s could just as easily be... Read More