NUCA members from around the country descended on our nation’s capital May 21-23 to take part in the 2019 Washington Summit. Direct advocacy and engagement with members of Congress is one of the most important ways that NUCA advances our interests, and through nearly 100 congressional meetings, we made clear to Congress what needs to be done to address our nation’s underground infrastructure.
This year’s agenda focused on three areas that are critically important to the utility construction industry and the nation at large: investing in water infrastructure, finding a fix for the Highway Trust Fund (HTF), and preparing the workforce for the construction industry.
In order to address water infrastructure needs, our top request to lawmakers was to cosponsor the Water Quality Protection and Job Creation Act, which would reauthorize the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF) program. This program provides financial resources to states to address wastewater infrastructure needs, and this legislation would significantly increase funding for the program.
In addition to directly tackling water infrastructure, attendees also urged lawmakers to work toward a fix on the Highway Trust Fund (HTF). The HTF pays for improvements to our nation’s roadways, including the underground utilities beneath them. The trust fund is expected to hit a shortfall in 2021, which means that important construction work may have to be put on hold.
For our final issue, we let Congress know the importance of preparing the workforce for the construction industry. In particular, attendees asked lawmakers to support legislation that would expand Pell Grants to high-quality, short-term skills development programs. Pell Grants are the main source of federal assistance to low-income undergraduate students, but their use is currently limited to longer programs which leaves out programs that could have a more immediate impact on a student’s career prospects. By expanding access to these grants, Congress could help more students gain skills to be successful in the construction industry, and ultimately help to address the labor shortage our industry faces.
To help win support on these issues, attendees presented lawmakers with the mountain of evidence and their experience that shows the need to invest in infrastructure. Furthermore, attendees showed the significant positive benefits of making these investments. Armed with information on the wages and impact of the utility construction industry in their respective states, attendees demonstrated the type of jobs that are created and sustained by federal investment in water infrastructure. While these benefits may be obvious to those who work in the industry every day, too many lawmakers still don’t understand.
Overall, lawmakers were generally receptive, but few of them were willing to commit to decisive action right away. The one issue where there seemed to be the most agreement was about the need to address the current thinking about higher education and workforce development. It is encouraging that lawmakers are starting to recognize that a four-year college degree may not be the best path for every student, and we should examine ways to expose them to other rewarding career opportunities.
In order to make the most of these meetings, attendees spent the prior day in preparation.
The briefing day kicked off with Ryan Seiger, who is the top staff member on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee. Seiger gave attendees the latest update on what’s going on with the Water Quality Protection and Job Creation Act, which would authorize $20 billion for the CWSRF program over five years.
Next, Congressman Rodney Davis (IL-13) provided some excellent insight into how to have an effective meeting with lawmakers and how to keep their attention during their busy schedules. As the top Republican on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Highways and Transit Subcommittee, he also gave his thoughts on the possibility for an infrastructure package.
Finally, Congressman Lloyd Smucker (PA-11) wrapped up the event by sharing his work as the top Republican on the House Education and Labor Higher Education and Workforce Development Subcommittee. Before coming to Congress, Congressman Smucker owned and operated a small wall and ceiling construction business and was really connected with attendees on the workforce issues facing the construction industry.
In addition to the speakers, attendees also participated in a thorough briefing on NUCA’s legislative priorities and engaged in preparatory role-playing to ensure that they were ready for anything that might come up. This helped to make sure that everyone was confident and prepared to make an impact during their meetings.
The Washington Summit is neither the beginning nor end of our advocacy efforts. Instead, it is part of the work that NUCA’s Government Relations does year-round to advance the interests of the utility construction and excavation industry. We will build on the Summit by following up with the offices that we met with to secure their commitment on issues that we discussed.
Looking ahead, August provides an excellent opportunity to build on the relationships established with lawmakers during the Summit. Members of Congress will be back in their district, and this is the perfect time to meet with lawmakers in their district or to arrange a site visit to show them the work that you’re doing. If you need any assistance in doing this, please reach out to NUCA Government Relations.