The New Spending Bill and Attorney Jobs

Buried in the massive, 250-page supplemental spending bill ($1.01 trillion) that Congress passed and the President signed this month are a number of provisions that directly impact attorney job opportunities in both the public and private sectors.

The 5-year old sequester that had every federal agency pleading poverty, none louder than the $600 billion Department of Defense, is now history. Many of the draconian cuts to agency budgets are gone for the moment. In fact, instead of suffering the cuts the President wanted, many agencies will enjoy budget increases. Agencies can breathe easier once again now that they are swimming in more money than God.

The following agencies, all but a few slated by Trump for big budget cuts, will instead see their budgets increase, which could also prompt increases in attorney hiring in the positively affected agencies and the private sector organizations that they regulate or contract with:

The Department of Defense (DoD) was the big winner, receiving an additional $69 billion. DoD has hundreds of law offices throughout the world and more than 100,000 outside contractor firms.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will receive an injection of millions of dollars instead of a massive Trumpian budget cut. CDC has two law offices, one in Atlanta and one in Washington, DC.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) gets a big chunk of change for fighting the opioid epidemic. At least a dozen agency law and law-related offices could be positively affected.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) receives an additional $1.5 billion on top of a hefty funds increase baked into the FY 2019 budget and potentially impacting 14 offices where attorneys work.

Even the much-maligned Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is getting an extra $2 billion. Six HUD offices employ lawyers.

Within the Department of Justice, both the Office of Justice Programs and the FBI will get additional funds. Multiple law offices nationwide could see staff increases.

More money for the Department of Labor, to the tune of $1.3 billion. Labor has attorneys working in mainstream legal and JD Advantage positions in multiple law, law-related, and operations offices.

Even the oft-targeted State Department, which Trump wanted to slash by 30+ percent, is seeing a budget increase. Department attorneys work in the Office of the Legal Adviser, Office of Civil Rights, Bureau of Consular Affairs, and in various other offices and bureaus.

The Department of Veterans Affairs will also receive a hefty increase. Attorneys can be found in the Office of General Counsel, Board of Veterans Appeals, Office of Inspector General, and various additional offices.

The Department of Agriculture, especially the Office of Inspector General.

Independent agencies benefiting significantly from budget increases: NASA, the National Science Foundation, and the Small Business Administration. 

Tax attorneys are toasting and boasting. The bill contains 65 pages worth of special interest tax breaks. The worthy beneficiaries of this congressional largesse will be dialing and texting their tax lawyers for months in order to hitch a ride on this gravy train, which includes, among many other bennies:

Race horse owners can depreciate their steeds over just three years.

Renewal of incentives for geothermal energy, small wind farms and fuel cells, which had been left out of a bill in 2015 that extended tax benefits for larger wind and solar power projects.

A tax credit for “carbon capture” technology in which power plants or other big sources of carbon dioxide pump the emissions underground. Some environmental scientists believe the technology, if it is perfected, could one day be a major tool for combating global warming.

A tax credit for vehicles powered with biodiesel and other biofuels or with fuel cells.

Marijuana Lawyers Breathe a Partial Sigh of Relief. This section of the spending bill is directed at Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recent warning shot that the Justice Department (DOJ) might still strictly enforce federal controlled substances laws that are in contradiction to state marijuana laws. It blocks DOJ from spending money to prevent states from “implementing their own laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana.” Recreational marijuana jurisdictions still face an uncertain future, but medical marijuana states now do not have to worry about federal crackdowns.

New Money for Civil Society Promotion. $100 million is earmarked for non-governmental organizations that “strengthen democratic institutions and processes, and counter Russian influence and aggression” and who work to reduce Russian influence in Europe and Eurasia. Outfits like the American Bar Association’s Central European and Eurasian Law Initiative (CEELI) should benefit.

$20 Billion for Infrastructure. Although, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers, this is only a piddling 1 percent of the money needed to bring our crumbling infrastructure up to snuff, $20 billion is nothing to sneeze at. It means a lot of money for thousands of private sector builders and construction firms that will be the beneficiaries.

Note. The Trump administration’s proposed Fiscal Year 2019 budget was submitted to Congress two days after enactment of the spending bill. It calls for draconian cuts to the budgets of many agencies. It is, however, a dream sheet that was immediately declared dead on arrival by both parties. Consequently, look to the spending bill for reality.