CONGRESSWOMAN ELISE STEFANIK
The House is scheduled to consider H.R. 965 on Thursday, September 10, 2009, under a structured rule making in order one amendment in the nature of a substitute. H.R. 965 was introduced on February 10, 2009, by Rep. Sarbanes (D-MD) and referred to the Committee on Natural Resources, which referred the bill to the Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands and took no further official action.
H.R. 965 would permanently reauthorize "such sums as are necessary" to provide federal grants to the Chesapeake Bay Gateways and Water Trails Network under the Chesapeake Bay Initiative Act of 1998. The Chesapeake Bay Initiative Act requires the National Park Service (NPS) to work with State and local governments and the private sector to provide assistance to communities, museums, historic sites, and natural parks around the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries.
The Chesapeake Bay Initiative was established in 1998 and authorized for five years at a level of $3 million annually. In 2002, the program was reauthorized for another five years at the same authorized funding level.
The Chesapeake Bay Initiative Act established the Chesapeake Bay Gateways and Water Trails Network. The bill required the National Park Service (NPS) to work with State and local governments and the private sector to provide assistance to communities, museums, historic sites, and natural parks around the communities within the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries, known as "gateways." The technical and financial assistance provided by the NPS for these gateways is disbursed through grants and is intended to preserve the Bay's cultural and historic resources, enhance public education and access to the Bay, and create a network of water trails, tour roads, and scenic byways within the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
From 1998 through 2008 (when the program's authorization expired), the Chesapeake Bay Gateways and Water Trails Network was authorized up to $3 million in appropriations annually to subsidize "recreational, historical, and cultural" projects on the Chesapeake. Under the Chesapeake Bay Initiative Act, federal funds provided for the network must not exceed 50 percent of the total cost of any project and the no more than ten percent of the funds contributed may be used for administrative costs. In June, 2008, the House passed H.R. 5540 which would have permanently extended the program, but the Senate failed to act on the bill. In addition to annual appropriations, Chesapeake Bay Gateways and Water Trails Network projects are often funded through earmarks. According to the National Park service, the Network has received $7.7 million from earmarks since its inception. In 2008 alone, the Network received 27 earmarks totaling $1.67 million.
During debate on the same legislation last year, some Members expressed their concern that the bill would make a relatively new federal program permanent and remove the ceiling on the amount of annual appropriations the Network would be authorized to receive. When the bill was considered last year, Rep. Rob Bishop, Ranking Member of the Parks and Public Lands Subcommittee, offered an amendment to the bill that would have restored the authorization limit and required that the program be reauthorized in five years rather than becoming permanent. According to Rep. Bishop's statement during debate, "It is one of the fundamental elements that we have as the concept of good government that Congress should exercise its right of oversight on programs. Even if we authorize a program, however good it should be, there still should be at a regular basis an oversight. It is not threatening to a program. It is the responsibility of Congress." However, the amendment was not adopted.
Some Members may share similar concerns that H.R. 965 would permanently establish a relatively new federal program that has been authorized for five year intervals since it was established. Under the legislation, Congress would no longer periodically review the effectiveness and necessity of the program every time it was reauthorized. In addition, the bill would permanently remove the $3 million cap on annual appropriations for the Network. Some Members may also be concerned H.R. 965 would remove a limit on a program that is a conduit for earmarks.
A CBO score for H.R. 965 was not yet available. However, according to the CBO report for H.R. 5540, the similar bill passed in the 110th Congress, CBO "estimates that implementing this legislation would cost the National Park Service about $5 million over the 2009-2013 period and $1 million a year thereafter."
Rep. Bishop (R-UT): The amendment in the nature of a substitute would reauthorize $3 million in annual funding for the Chesapeake Bay Gateways and Water Trails Network for an additional five years, through 2014.