Use independent review to reform Army
Duluth News Tribune
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
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
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
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.
Habitat and Biodiversity Coordinator
Great Lakes United
1300 Elmwood Avenue
Cassety Hall- Buffalo State College
Buffalo, NY 14222
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