With the beginning of a new Congress comes speculation and planning for the authorization of federal agencies. One such agency, the Economic Development Administration (EDA), has been in dire need of congressional reauthorization for over a decade.
For those who may not be familiar with the small agency within the Department of Commerce, the EDA was established in 1965 to lead the federal government’s role in regional economic development. Through a diverse array of programs, the agency awards grants to invest in public works projects, revolving loan funds, workforce training programs, innovation competitions, and disaster recovery to spur job creation and retention in communities across the country, particularly those experiencing consistent economic distress. Today the EDA remains the sole federal agency primarily focused on economic development.
Although EDA typically receives a meager annual appropriation compared to many other federal agencies, EDA has received several large funding infusions - $1.5 billion in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security, or CARES, Act and $3 billion in the American Rescue Plan Act - during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has spurred new interest in the typically overlooked agency. EDA’s ability to effectively manage significant supplemental appropriations demonstrates that the small agency is ready for additional responsibility, including administration of the $1.18 billion in additional funding in the fiscal year 2023 omnibus package, intended for disaster recovery and implementation of two new programs: regional technology hubs and Rep. Derek Kilmer’s RECOMPETE program.
Although Congress has consistently provided annual appropriations to fund the agency’s operations and grant programs, EDA has been operating without congressional authorization since 2008, meaning that there have been very few updates to the agency’s authority in the last 15 years. Economic development stakeholders have been advocating for improvements to EDA’s disaster recovery authority, federal investment in broadband deployment and local capacity building, and additional funding for partner entities like Economic Development Districts (EDDs) and University Centers.
The House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works have been working for years to reauthorize the EDA, but have been unable to reach a bipartisan agreement to do so. With slim majority margins in both the House and Senate, lawmakers will have to compromise to reauthorize this important agency. Luckily, EDA continues to have bipartisan support due to the critical financial support it provides to struggling communities. In the 118th Congress, reauthorization of EDA could prove to be a litmus test of Congress’ ability to reach a consensus on common sense policy. A broad spectrum of stakeholders, including outdoor recreation associations, emergency management professionals, urban and rural developers, municipalities, travel associations, and countless others, all stand to benefit from an EDA reauthorization.