By: Joseph A. Hackenbracht
On April 2, 2010, the Government Accountability Office responded to a request from the House Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development to evaluate “whether the President’s recent budget requests for the Corps are presented so that agency priorities are clear and proposed use of funds transparent.” In its analysis, the GAO reviewed the Corps’ internal review guidance for fiscal year 2011 and interviewed Corps’ officials at the Headquarters office and all Division offices. The GAO concluded that the Corps’ budget presentation continues to lack transparency and should provide key information that would be useful for Congress’ review of the budget. GAO believes that the Corps should provide two types of project-level information: first, information on projects previously funded that may still have resource needs; and second, information on the amount of unobligated appropriations remaining on previously funded projects. GAO suggests that this detailed information would help Congress make better informed appropriations and oversight decisions. Both Senate and House members have indicated that this type of information would be useful, and the Corps has agreed to provide this type of project-level information in future budget requests. While some of the information has been provided for the 2011 budget, the Corps has indicated that it can supplement the budget request during Congressional consideration of the appropriations.
The GAO noted that the fiscal year 2011 budget request included 95 construction projects and 65 investigation projects. The budget request that President Obama presented to Congress on February 1, 2010, totaled 3.834 trillion dollars. The budget proposal includes 4.881 billion dollars to support the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Civil Works Program. Highlights of the Corps’ proposed budget are:
• $164 million to construct commercial navigation improvements on America’s inland waterways.
• $789 million for efforts to reduce the risk of flood and storm damage.
• $506 million to restore aquatic ecosystems.
• The budget gives construction priority to dam safety work, projects that reduce significant risks to human safety, and projects that will complete construction during 2011.
• $58 million for the Corps share of the CALFED Bay-Delta Program designed to improve California’s water supply and the ecological health of the San Francisco Bay/Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.
• $180 million to advance Corps studies and key construction projects to restore the South Florida ecosystem, including the Everglades, an extraordinary but threatened ecosystem.
• $36 million for efforts to restore and protect the ecosystem along the Louisiana Coast, still recovering from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
The Corps’ 2011 proposed amount, however, represents a substantial decrease from the 2010 budget amount of 5.446 billion dollars. The budget proposal for the Corps also reflects a dramatic drop in fiscal outlays from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding for the Civil Works Program.
The Water Resources Coalition, an organization established to promote the development, implementation and funding of a comprehensive national water resources policy, has expressed its concern that the budget cuts will have wide negative impacts “including reducing necessary flood control protection along coastlines, stifling inland waterway shipments, and the lost opportunity for job creation.” Among its members, the Water Resources Coalition includes the Associated General Contractors of America and the American Society of Civil Engineers.
Brian T. Pallasch, Co-Chairman of the Water Resources Coalition, stated that “the Administration’s budget ignores the public safety and environmental benefits these programs offer our nation. The residual risk to life and property behind such structures cannot be ignored.” The Water Resources Coalition has encouraged Congress to reverse these budget cuts and increase the funding for the Corps’ Civil Works Program. The project-level information that the Corps has indicated it would provide for the 2011 budget process may assist Congress in justifying increases in the funding for the Corps.