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Monday, April 9, 2012

Davis-Bacon Prevailing Wages and State Revolving Loan Programs Under the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act

Gerald Mayer
Analyst in Labor Policy

Jon O. Shimabukuro
Legislative Attorney

The Davis-Bacon Act requires employers to pay workers on federal construction projects at least locally prevailing wages and fringe benefits. These wages and benefits are the minimum hourly wages and benefits that employers must pay workers. In order to hire and retain workers, employers may pay more than locally prevailing wages or benefits. Supporters of the Davis- Bacon Act maintain that it creates stability in local construction and labor markets and ensures that projects are built by the most skilled and experienced workers. Critics of the act argue that it impedes competition, raises construction costs, and imposes additional administrative requirements on contractors.

The Federal Water Pollution Control Act, commonly called the Clean Water Act (CWA), authorizes appropriations to states to operate state revolving loan funds (SRFs) that finance the construction of wastewater treatment plants. The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) authorizes appropriations for SRFs to finance the construction of public drinking water systems. An issue for Congress is whether to apply Davis-Bacon prevailing wages to projects financed by the state revolving loan programs under the CWA and SDWA.

The SDWA has a Davis-Bacon provision, but the provision predates, and does not apply to, the state revolving loan program. The CWA states that Davis-Bacon prevailing wages apply to projects that are “constructed in whole or in part before fiscal year 1995” with funds from the revolving loan program. Authorization for appropriations expired at the end of FY1994 for the CWA and the end of FY2003 for the SDWA. Nevertheless, Congress has continued to appropriate funds for the SRFs under both statutes.

After the authorization of appropriations for the SRFs under the CWA expired at the end of FY1994, Davis-Bacon coverage was the subject of considerable debate. In 1995, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a memorandum stating that projects that began construction after the end of FY1994 did not have to comply with the Davis-Bacon requirements. However, the Building and Construction Trades Department (BCTD) of the AFL-CIO disagreed with EPA’s interpretation of the law. The BCTD argued that Davis-Bacon coverage applied to projects funded by the SRFs as long as Congress continued to appropriate funds for the program. In June 2000, EPA and the BCTD proposed a settlement agreement that would require states to ensure that prevailing wages are paid for work performed on projects funded through the SRF program “for as long as grants are awarded to the states.” The agreement was to take effect in July 2001. Later, the implementation date was moved to September 2001, and then to October 2001. It does not appear that the settlement agreement was ever implemented.

Appropriations legislation enacted in the 112th Congress, for FY2012 and future fiscal years, applies Davis-Bacon prevailing wages to the revolving loan programs under both the CWA and the SDWA. Appropriations for EPA for FY2010 imposed Davis-Bacon prevailing wage requirements on projects funded by either revolving loan program. In November 2009, EPA announced that that Davis-Bacon coverage would apply to any “assistance agreement” entered into during FY2010, whether or not the funds for the projects were from FY2010 or prior year appropriations. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) provided FY2009 supplemental appropriations funds to the CWA and SDWA SRFs, and required Davis-Bacon prevailing wages on projects funded in whole or in part by the act.

Date of Report: March 28, 2012
Number of Pages: 11
Order Number: R41469
Price: $29.95

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