House Defeats HHS-Spending Bill; University Still Receives Funding

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Louis Dupart
Partner
Fleishman and Walsh, LLP

“In a stunning setback for House GOP leaders, a $142.5 billion FY06 Labor-HHS appropriations bill went down to a 224-209 defeat this afternoon,” reported the National Journal in the November 17, 2005 issue of Congress Daily

The Labor-HHS Bill is the principal bill by which colleges and universities receive Congressional “earmarks.” Congress’ failure to complete this bill means many schools counting on substantial new money from Washington will be sorely disappointed this year because they failed to diversify their requests and take cues from the legislative process. 

The disappointment felt by many schools was both foreseeable and avoidable. The high cost of the Iraq War, persistent deficits, and the devastation of two hurricanes have caused Congress to scale back its taste for earmarks. But following the old adage, “don’t put all of your eggs in one basket” has still allowed a number of colleges and universities to tap into the federal budget this year. 

By committing to have an active Washington presence, a University located in the Midwest began the year with an aggressive plan to diversify its requests by putting them in a variety of bills. They did this to increase the amount received and to ensure that if one piece of legislation ran into trouble, the school would still receive money. While the school made the traditional requests in the Fund for Post Secondary Education (FIPSE), the principal Department of Education account earmarked for colleges and universities, it also worked with its D.C. Counsel to target other bills from which they could receive assistance.

Notably, the school received a total of $18 million in two separate Congressional earmarks placed in the Transportation Appropriation Bill and the Highway Reauthorization Bill this year. In addition, they will receive $.5 million for a new engineering building by making this request in a separate account, the Economic Development Initiative (EDI) Account. EDI Grants are funded through the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which receives its annual budget from an appropriations bill separate from the Labor-HHS bill. 

The school only made one of the traditional requests in the Fund for Post Secondary Education (FIPSE), the principal Department of Education account earmarked for colleges and universities. In addition, they also asked for money in the Museum and Library Account, also funded through the Department of Education. Both of these requests were among the thousand plus Labor-HHS earmarks that did not get funded this year.

However, the University’s decision to hedge its bets and file multiple requests in three other federal programs led to substantial success because the Transportation and Housing and Urban Development Bill will be signed into law shortly. To execute their plan the University committed to an aggressive outreach to Congress using the President, the Provost and the Treasurer to meet regularly with Members of Congress to outline their requests, to answer questions and to recalibrate each request based upon feedback from these meetings. 

They also made the decision that they could not do this on their own. Through Washington legislative counsel familiar with the Congressional process, they developed a multi-year strategy to look at both the annual appropriation process as well as periodic reauthorizations of key bills. They targeted accounts that provided larger amounts of money to undertake initiatives that would not be possible through the regular appropriations bills. This commitment yielded the substantial success described above.

It is noteworthy that prior to retaining a Washington firm, the University never received a federal earmark. Over the last three years, the University has received over $23.5 million. Commitment to the appropriations process through multiple high level visits, regular attention to its projects from its local counsel, diversified requests, and an organized plan executed over three years has yielded significant financial success. Equally important, the same institution is now routinely asked to testify on the Hill on issues that effect higher education, including loan programs, which has helped to enhance its national profile.  

Washington is no longer the easy target for colleges and universities that it has been for the last five to 10 years; but, those institutions who invest in the process and are prepared to plan carefully in consultation with a Washington firm that specializes in federal appropriations work will remain successful.


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