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Use independent review to reform Army Corps
Duluth News Tribune
Posted 10/10/2002

If the Army Corps of Engineers wants public support and, more important, public trust in its studies and major projects, Congress is going to have to approve major reform.

As a community on the Great Lakes -- where we depend on the Corps for erosion control on Minnesota Point, harbors and refuges along Lake Superior and, of course, Great Lakes navigation -- trust in Corps analyses is essential.

We've seen how that trust has been eroded -- most recently with revelations that came out of the Upper Mississippi Navigation Study.

A December 2000 investigation by the Army inspector general found that "Advocacy, growth, the customer service model, and the Corps' reliance on external funding combined to create an atmosphere where objectivity in its analyses was placed in jeopardy."

The Inspector General continued, "Nearly all the economists expressed a view that the Corps (or senior individuals within the Corps) held an inherent preference for large-scale construction. A senior economist used the term 'corrupt' in discussing one Division.... The overall impression conveyed by testimony of Corps employees was that some of them had no confidence in the integrity of the Corps' study processes."

The U.S. Army then asked the National Academy of Sciences to convene an expert committee to review the study. That February 2001 report concluded that the Corps simplified future supply-and-demand predictions; downplayed potential cost overruns; ignored smaller, less-expensive solutions; and failed to integrate economic and environmental components.

As a result, Congress called upon the National Academy of Sciences to make recommendations for future Corps studies.

That report recommends independent review of projects by independent experts.

Congress is in the process of reauthorizing the Water Resources Development Act for Corps funding, as it does every two years. An important Great Lakes Navigation Study is in that bill.

But the House Transportation and Infrastructure committee failed last Wednesday to include reforms in its markup of the bill. This is unacceptable.

Amendments will have to be taken to the floor. Rep. Jim Oberstar announced Friday that he would propose amendments that would require the Corps to submit water project proposals for review by independent experts.

Any water resources bills that move through House and Senate should be linked to Corps reform.

In the Senate, Sen. Bob Smith of New Hampshire, along with Sens. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin and John McCain of Arizona, are spearheading the reform effort.

Smith said in June: "The Corps' review process has grown suspect. Allegations of officials 'cooking the books' to arrive at desired outcomes were substantiated by the Army Inspector General, who also determined that the Corps has a propensity for favoring large-scale projects. It is not that I am against all large-scale projects. If the project is demonstrated to have merit, is in the national interest and has solid economic and environmental analyses supporting its initiation, by all means it should have the opportunity to go forward."

The bottom line is Corps studies and projects should undergo independent peer review. Allowing any agency to evaluate the need for its own projects -- projects that it will build -- is fraught with conflicts of interest.

Independent review would go a long way to restore credibility. It would make the public more likely to support much-needed national infrastructure projects, including improvements to the St. Lawrence Seaway.

The full House should support reform amendments to the Water Resources Development Act of 2002 (HR5428), requiring independent review and other Corps reforms. Then it's on to the Senate.



Jennifer Nalbone
Habitat and Biodiversity Coordinator
Great Lakes United
1300 Elmwood Avenue
Cassety Hall- Buffalo State College
Buffalo, NY 14222
This information is posted for nonprofit educational purposes, in accordance with U.S. Code Title 17, Chapter 1,Sec. 107 copyright laws.

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