Infrastructure Bill Complete; Funding and Reconciliation Bills Remain

Congress has its work cut out for it as we head into the holiday season. With a limited number of working days left before the first session of the 117th Congress ends, time is short to pass a $2 trillion reconciliation package and complete work on the fiscal year (FY) 2022 appropriations bills. Of course, this is the time of year when deals are struck and efforts that appeared out of reach only months ago somehow find the finish line, as we saw last week with the passage of sweeping infrastructure legislation.

On November 5, the House of Representatives passed the long-awaited Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (H.R. 3684), handing a major win to the Biden Administration. The President is expected to sign the measure into law next week when Congress returns, likely in a Rose Garden ceremony, to celebrate major new investments in the nation’s roads, bridges, rail, airports, and electric grid. The 1,000+ page bill includes a range of initiatives, including a few of interest to the research community.

Transportation Research.  The bill establishes the newest federal government “ARPA,” the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Infrastructure (ARPA-I) within the Department of Transportation (see COSSA’s previous coverage on other “ARPAs” across the federal government). ARPA-I will be tasked with advancing the nation’s transportation infrastructure by developing innovative science and technology solutions, which may include research grants to university researchers. The infrastructure bill also authorizes a new Advanced Transportation Research Initiative that will allow the Transportation Secretary to accept and fund unsolicited research proposals—including from university researchers—on topics of interest to the department. The Secretary is directed to coordinate such research activities with other federal agencies, including the National Science Foundation.

Transportation Statistics.  The infrastructure package includes a five-year surface transportation reauthorization bill, which authorizes funding for federal programs related to highways, roads and bridges, public transportation, and railroads, among other areas. The reauthorization bill sets funding levels for the Department of Transportation’s principal statistical agency, the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, which is funded by an allocation from the Federal Highway Administration rather than a direct appropriation. The bill lays out incremental increases to the base BTS budget, raising it from $26 million in FY 2022 to $27 million by FY 2026. The small increase represents the first growth in BTS’s funding level since FY 2014. In addition to this relatively minor increase, another section of the package, the Surface Transportation Investment Act allows Congress to allocate an additional $10 million a year to BTS from FY 2022 through FY 2026. Whether appropriators will take advantage of this authorization remains to be seen, however.

DHS Research.  The bill authorizes $157.5 million for “Research and Development” at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) through FY 2026. This authorization would be used for infrastructure security and resilience research and may be used for such issues as risk assessment and violence prevention surrounding critical infrastructure, among other research questions.

Energy Data. The package includes a fairly lengthy list of new activities to be undertaken by the Energy Information Administration, the Department of Energy’s principal statistical agency. These include enhancing and expanding data collection on the energy sector, energy consumption, electric vehicles, energy-related mineral demand, energy-sector modeling, and carbon abatement.  However, no authorization of additional appropriations is included in the bill to support these efforts.

Up Next: Reconciliation.  With the infrastructure bill now in the rearview mirror (no pun intended), Congress will attempt to find common ground on the $2 trillion Build Back Better Act (H.R. 5376), the reconciliation package containing funding for social safety net programs and climate change initiatives. A vote in the House could come next week; however, its prospects in the Senate are less clear. Still Waiting: FY 2022 Funding.  Still out there for Congress to complete are the twelve FY 2022 appropriations bills. Lawmakers are currently facing a December 3 deadline, which is when the continuing resolution (CR) expires. It is becoming increasingly likely that additional CRs will be needed to complete work this year. You can find COSSA’s full coverage of FY 2022 funding here.


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