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June 30, 2016
Congress is on recess now through the July 4th holiday. After they return, Congress will only be in session a few days until July 15 when they will recess for the two party conventions and the traditional August break. When Congress reconvenes after Labor Day, there will be a short session until October 1 after which Congress will not return until following the November elections. This leaves a very limited amount of time for Congress to complete "must do" bills and other priority legislation. As a result, many issues are falling by the wayside and others will simply be extended into next year.
It appears now that Congress will not be able to complete most, or perhaps any, of the FY'17 federal agency funding bills, including the THUD appropriations bill which funds US DOT programs, by the start of the new fiscal year on October 1. Efforts by various members in both bodies to try to attach highly controversial and often unrelated amendments to the funding bills have caused the process to grind to a halt. A Continuing Resolution (CR) which funds programs at current levels is almost inevitable. The big question is how long the CR might last - into the post-election Lame Duck session, into spring or summer of 2017, or even through the full fiscal year. In addition to the usual partisan politics of a very contentious presidential election year, controversial issues related to gun control, eradication of the zika virus, gay rights, and others are holding up orderly consideration and passage of key legislation.
On the infrastructure front, two important bills that had been expected to pass this year are currently in limbo - FAA authorization and Water Resources authorization. With the current short-term extension of the FAA authorization due to expire on July 15, it is clear that a long-term bill will not be passed this year. No progress has been made on Chairman Shuster's controversial proposal to privatize the air traffic control (ATC) system. House and Senate staff are working to draft another short-term extension which will likely last into 2017 and perhaps even extend through a full year. Unlike most short-term authorization extensions which are "clean", efforts are underway to include some policy provisions in the bill. These could include provisions on TSA security reforms, drones, and establishing a special panel to study the issue of ATC privatization, among others.
The bi-annual Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) which funds Corps' of Engineers projects is usually a bi-partisan effort with limited controversies. The House and Senate authorizing committees quickly and easily passed companion WRDA bills (HR 5303 and S. 2848) this spring, but neither bill has been able to get floor time. It now appears likely that this bill may slip until after the election or into next year. Fortunately, there is no immediate impact on funding for the Corps. This week, 29 Republican Senators signed a letter to the leadership calling for floor time for the WRDA bill before the summer recess.
Also stalled is a comprehensive energy reform bill, which has passed both the House and Senate, but negotiations to resolve the differences in the two bills have bogged down.
On May 31, FHWA/FTA published the Final Rule on Statewide and Nonmetropolitan Transportation Planning and Metropolitan Transportation Planning in the Federal Register. Here is a link to the rulemaking. The final rule is the sixth in a series of rules that FHWA and FTA are issuing to establish the performance management framework introduced by MAP-21 and continued by the FAST Act. The rule implements certain planning and environmental provisions of MAP-21 and the FAST Act changes to the transportation planning process, including:
On June 6, US DOT published the Interim National Multimodal Freight Network (NMFN) in the Federal Register as required by the FAST Act. Here is a link to the notice and a link to the map. Public comments are due by September 6 in order to receive consideration by DOT with respect to the final NMFN. The final NMFN will be designated by December 4, 2016. Once finalized, the NMFN will be used to assist states in strategically directing resources towards improved system performance for the efficient movement of freight, inform freight transportation planning, assist in the prioritization of Federal investment, and assess and support Federal investments to achieve national multimodal freight policy goals and national highway freight program goals outlined in the FAST Act.
On June 8, the Senate Commerce, Science & Transportation Committee held a hearing on implementation of the FAST Act. The Committee has jurisdiction over the rail and safety provisions in the bill. US DOT Secretary Anthony Foxx was the sole witness. Here is a link to information about the hearing including Chairman Thune's (R-SD) opening statement, Foxx's testimony, and a video of the hearing.