Congress is in the midst of the appropriations season, a time when the Appropriations Committee brings to the floor its annual spending bills funding the government for the next fiscal year. As a senior member of the committee, I wanted to give you an update on a number of legislative provisions I have worked on in these bills.
Interior Appropriations bill:
• Maintained a moratorium banning oil and gas drilling off the east and west coasts of the U.S. Putting our nation’s top tourist destinations at risk for an oil spill doesn’t make sense when 80 percent of recoverable oil and gas reserves are already open for drilling elsewhere.
• Provided $30 million for the EPA’s Chesapeake Bay Restoration Program.
• Directed the EPA to study the health effects of trona, a naturally found mineral used by the Mirant Power Plant in Alexandria to trap harmful pollutants. The website of the company that produces trona states that the trona itself can be harmful to humans. The government has never before studied this issue.
Financial Services Appropriations bill:
• Increased the pay raise for federal employees next fiscal year to 3.5%, which represents pay parity.
• Offered an amendment to give the General Services Administration (GSA) flexibility to consider factors other than just security when deciding whether federal agencies can locate in leased office space. Of the 100 largest leased office buildings in Arlington, 98 cannot comply with the security standards. This amendment would allow the GSA to consider other factors when selecting leased office space such as access to transportation and a skilled workforce.
• Required the GSA to identify all legislative impediments to making federal buildings more environmentally friendly.
• Provided $26.4 million for OPM to digitize its retirement records. Due to the antiquated, paper-based system currently in use, many federal retirees do not receive their full annuity in the first months of retirement.
Foreign Operations bill:
• Secured $12 million to fund Middle East People-to-People Coexistence Programs that foster positive interaction between people of different faiths.
• Inserted language recommending that the U.S. State Department direct more diplomatic staff towards resolving conflicts and crises in Central and East Africa, particularly in Uganda, Somalia, Sudan, Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic, and Eritrea and Ethiopia.
Because appropriations bills are “must-pass,” (meaning that in order to keep the government from shutting down they have to be signed into law), there are opportunities for members of Congress to add thoughtful provisions addressing a full range of local, national and international issues. The items listed above represent actions taken on three of the 12 bills Congress will consider. With nine more to go, I will be looking for more ways to make positive change.