USACE Reform Proposed

Tuesday, July 03, 2001
Reformers in the House of Representatives introduced legislation on Wednesday to curb misconduct and wasteful spending at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), but the bill's chief sponsor said the Corps has broad enough support in Congress to avoid short-term reforms. Rep. Tom Tancredo, a Colorado Republican, and five other lawmakers have sponsored a bill that would require Corps projects to provide higher cost savings and subject proposals that exceed $25 million to an independent review panel. Scientists and former Army Corps officials have said the top U.S. agency responsible for building dams, flood plains and swamps fixed data to justify spending millions of dollars to upgrade aging waterways. "A bill was needed to harness the Corps in Congress and redirect the Corps toward fiscal discipline and community responsiveness," Tancredo said when he introduced his bill. Environmentalists and anti-tax groups applauded the bill and urged Congress to force the agency to reduce its $54 billion project backlog. The most controversial Corps plan is a $56 million agency study that endorsed upgrading the 70-year-old lock and dam system that dots the Mississippi and Illinois rivers. Tancredo said a hearing on other Corps reform bills would likely be held later this year. But he warned the legislation will probably be defeated because "the Corps has many, many strong supporters in Congress." Public officials, advocacy groups and former Corps officials said the agency used unrealistic projections to justify spending an estimated $1 billion to upgrade the Mississippi River. Tancredo's bill is the second Corps reform plan to be introduced this year. Democrats Sen. Russ Feingold and Rep. Ron Kind, both from Wisconsin, introduced similar bills in March to "help restore public and congressional trust in this agency" through reform. In recent months, the Corps has been investigated by two independent groups -- the U.S. Office of Special Counsel and the National Academy of Sciences. The Office of Special Counsel concluded the Corps overstepped its bounds by manipulating data to justify new projects that would create jobs and favor grain shippers and supportive lawmakers. Pressure has been mounting on Capitol Hill that the Corps is not doing enough to restore its tarnished reputation. Many lawmakers have argued that without a quick solution, the agency's credibility will continue to flounder and vital waterway projects may lose support and funding. This bill "puts the Corps on notice that it's not just environmentalists that are concerned with the Corps. Fiscal conservatives are forcing the Corps to move forward into a realm of a responsible agency," said Steve Ellis, director of water resources for Taxpayers for Common Sense. Lt. Gen. Robert Flowers, head of the Corps, told a Senate panel in February he will study the process the agency uses to approve projects and would accept the findings in the two independent reviews. The agency has since delayed releasing its final river draft study for public review until this fall. - (Reuters)

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