The first year of the 113th Congress was
the least productive in our nation’s history.
As political paralysis and a continued
focus on the federal budget and rollout
of the Affordable Care Act dominated the
legislative agenda, major legislation idled.
Comprehensive immigration reform, a new
farm bill, and major tax reform all stalled as
Congress remained at a standstill.
However, as 2014 begins there are a few
rare, bipartisan exceptions that should give
engineers hope. Most notable among these
is the current reauthorization effort for the
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The Water
Resources Reform and Development Act of
2013 (WRRDA) would be the first authorization for USACE since 2007. WRRDA
would streamline the infrastructure
project delivery process and strengthen
our nation’s water transportation networks.
In May 2013, the Senate’s version of the
bill (S. 601), the Water Resources Development Act of 2013 passed by an impressive
vote of 83-14. On October 23, the House
companion legislation (H. R. 3080), WRRDA,
was approved by the House of Representatives by an astounding vote of 417-3.
Once enacted into law, WRRDA will
ensure that the Corps can carry out its
mission to develop, maintain, and support
the nation’s port and waterways infrastructure needs, as well as targeted flood protection and environmental needs. Although both
versions modernize and improve the project
delivery process, the House version of the
legislation is particularly reform-oriented.
WRRDA would overhaul and dramati-
cally improve the process for federal water
resources development. The legislation
sets hard deadlines on the time and cost of
studies, consolidates or eliminates duplica-
tive studies and concurrent reviews that can
hold up projects for years, and streamlines
environmental reviews. WRRDA fully offsets
new authorizations with deauthorizations
and cancels $12 billion of inactive projects
that were approved prior to the 2007 Water
Resources Development Act. This legislation
maximizes the ability of nonfederal interests
to contribute their own funds to move autho-
rized studies and projects forward. Moreover,
it substantially reduces project backlogs.
With passage of the House and Senate
bills, the next and final step is a confer-
ence committee to reconcile the differences
between the two bills. President Obama has
expressed support for the legislation and
indicated that he will sign the conference
committee’s final version into law.
The conference committee comprises 32
Senate and House Democrats and Repub-
licans who have worked on the legisla-
tion to this point and will be tasked with
finding common ground between the two
versions. The Senate contingent, led by
Senate Environment and Public Works
Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer
(D-CA), consists of five Democrats and three
Republicans. The House contingent, led by
House Transportation and Infrastructure
Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA),
consists of 13 Republicans and 11 Demo-
crats. The conference committee held
its first public meeting on November 20.
The meeting was unusually upbeat, with
a bipartisan focus on economic benefits,
fiscal responsibility, and reform.
However, there are substantial differ-
ences between the House and Senate bills
that must be addressed before a final law
can make its way to the president’s desk.
Most significantly, the cost of the Senate
bill, at $12.2 billion, is $4 billion above the
House’s level of around $8 billion. Moreover,
the bills differ on important details such as
how to authorize and deauthorize projects,
as well as how to revise the use of funds
from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund.
Nevertheless, the prospect of a final
version of the authorization in early 2014
is still most likely. The conference principals
and committee staff are working very hard
behind the scenes to craft an agreement
that can gain bipartisan approval in both
legislative chambers. After an all too unproductive 2013, this year may begin with a
major legislative achievement to benefit the
Arielle Eiser is NSPE’s manager of
Waterways Infrastructure Legislation
Offers Rare Bipartisan Victory
BY ARIELLE EISER
NSPE Endorses Veterans Licensure Legislation
On December 5, NSPE endorsed the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA)
Enhancement and Improvement Act of 2013. Introduced by Senate Veterans’ Affairs
Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), this
legislation (S.1579) would ensure that our nation’s service members are recognized
for their invaluable contributions to our nation and for their personal sacrifices.
NSPE particularly commends S.1579 for acknowledging the need to protect
the professional licenses of uniformed service members. NSPE strongly supports
Section 104 of the legislation, which states that if a professional license issued
by a state or local licensing authority to a service member would otherwise lapse
during a period in which such service member is eligible for hostile fire or imminent
danger special pay, the state licensing authority shall delay the expiration of the
license at least 180 days. NSPE further endorses Section 104 of the legislation for
applying the 180-day cushion to continuing education requirements.
In a letter of support to Chairman Sanders and Senator Rockefeller, NSPE President Robert Green, P.E., F.NSPE writes, “While NSPE believes strongly that state
licensure requirements are vitally important, NSPE also believes that state licensure
authorities should show a reasonable level of flexibility toward those defending our
nation. NSPE believes the language in S.1579 embodies that level of flexibility.”