Senate approaches recess with much left undone

By Laura Bies

A green heron (Butorides virescens) in the wetlands of Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge, one of the more than 500 refuges Skipwith will oversee if confirmed. A green heron (Butorides virescens) in the wetlands of Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge, one of the more than 500 refuges Skipwith will oversee if confirmed. ©Adams, Keenan/USFWS

With the August recess fast approaching, the Senate faces a long to-do list of priority actions, including pending nominations and appropriations work.

Appropriations

Last week, Congress and the administration reached a deal about overall funding for the next two years, agreeing to reverse the budget sequester that would have reduced discretionary spending by $125 billion in fiscal year 2020. This would have had a direct effect on conservation programs. The agreement will increase spending for both defense and discretionary programs by $320 billion over the next two years, providing an opportunity for increased conservation program funding, which The Wildlife Society will advocate for. The House passed the budget deal on July 25. The Senate is expected to vote on the deal later this week.

The U.S. House of Representatives has passed 10 of its 12 FY 2020 appropriations bills so far this Congress. The Senate is still early in their own appropriations process, gathering information before drafting its spending bills. The Appropriations Committee held hearings this summer to review the administration’s budget request for many agencies, such as the Department of the Interior and the U.S. Forest Service. It expects to draft bills in August and finalize them in September. The fiscal year ends Sept. 30, leaving little time for a conference committee to reconcile differences between the House and Senate bills before current funding expires.

Nominations

Two and a half years into the current administration, three of the four primary federal natural resource management agencies are still without a Senate-confirmed appointee. Only the U.S. Forest Service has a confirmed chief in place, while the director positions for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and the National Park Service are still vacant.

Aurelia Skipwith was nominated for Fish and Wildlife Service Director in Oct. 2018, but her nomination was not acted on by the previous Congress. She was re-nominated on July 17, and now awaits Senate confirmation. The BLM and the NPS are awaiting formal nominees by the president for this session of Congress, and several other Interior nominees also await a final decision by the Senate.

This article was updated on 08/01/2019 to provide correct information on the status of spending bills in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Laura BiesLaura Bies is a government relations contractor and freelance writer for The Wildlife Society. She has a B.S. in Environmental Science and a law degree from George Washington University. Laura has worked with The Wildlife Society since 2005. Read more of Laura's articles.

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