It is amazing what Congress can accomplish when it finally gets around to doing something. The Senate sat on additional COVID-19 relief legislation and the appropriations bills until the very last minute, but when the Consolidated Appropriations finally passed, it included a host of energy program reauthorizations, including WAP.
The journey started over six years ago when Senators Rob Portman and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) decided to work together on a package to reauthorize and update a wide range of energy programs managed by the Department of Energy. The original parameters of the bill were pretty tight: no new program authorizations, which in Washington-speak means no additional funding.
At the same time, Senator Chris Coons (D-DE) and Representative Paul Tonko (D-NY) took the lead in a bipartisan effort to reauthorize WAP. The original version of the bill was not favorable to existing providers. It would have eliminated crews in favor of contractors, and it included other changes that would not help the program. It also failed to address a couple of issues that were key to the program going forward, including additional administrative funding and updating the ‘look-back’ date that was still stuck on September 30, 1994.
Fast forward to 2019. The Shaheen-Portman bill was reintroduced, as was a slightly revised version of the WAP reauthorization. Hearings were held in both Houses. Terry Jacobs from MVCAP testified in a House Appropriations hearing on the program. There was clearly bipartisan support to move this bill, along with a host of other energy program authorizations. The chairs of the respective Senate and House Committees were supportive. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), the Chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee was a critical supporter, as was the increasingly powerful Senator Susan Collins (R-ME). Representative Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) has been a mover on the issue in the House. Though not on the authorizing committee, her position as lead of the Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee gave her a lot of leverage.
Discovering that the WAP reauthorization had been embedded in the Stimulus/Omnibus Appropriations Bill was a surprise to many of us outside of Washington. (I like to think I have my finger on the pulse, but I missed this one completely.)
The bill modernizes WAP to some extent. It includes a competitive demonstration program which OPAE had opposed, but in return for other compromises, including the elimination of the requirement agencies be 100% contractors, along with increased administrative funding, the bill is a reasonable compromise. The program is reauthorized for five years. The last reauthorization occurred in ARRA. It will be interesting to see what grows from this reauthorization.