|Army Corps Articles
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Second in a series of Big River articles on the Army Corps Navigation Study.
By Reggie McLeod
By Reggie McLeod
Scrutiny and criticism of the Army Corps of Engineers has increased
steadily since details of a whistleblowers claims became public
in February. The National Science Foundation will review the Corps
Upper Mississippi River, Illinois Waterway Navigation System Feasibility
Study (Navigation Study). The Pentagon is investigating how the
study was conducted. The Office of Special Counsel has found sufficient
cause to proceed with the whistleblower suit. (Last year the office
investigated only 15 of the 400 complaints it received.) In March
the Taxpayers for Common Sense and the National Wildlife Federation
ranked expansion of the Mississippi River lock-and-dam system
as the third most wasteful Corps pork barrel project.
Much of the Corps current work is repairing environmental damage
caused by earlier Corps projects. These repairs often cost more
than the original project and involve another massive layer of
construction. One Corps study proposed spending $7.8 billion to
save the Everglades, which are disappearing because an earlier
Corps project drained land to create new orange groves. The repairs
call for massive pumps and underground water storage, rather than
returning the orange groves to their previous state.
Donald C. Sweeney, the Corps economist who accused the Corps of
fabricating economic data to justify expanding the lock-and-dam
system, also said the Corps has set out to increase its funding
by $100 million a year.
We need to step back and look at the big picture. Could we move
grain to New Orleans more cheaply without the lock-and-dam system?
Could we gain more economic advantage by processing the corn in
the Midwest? If the shippers had to pay for the entire system
without a tax subsidy, what would they do?
The Army Corps of Engineers was originally created to assist with
military operations, such as building roads and bridges in theaters
of war. Today the Corps performs military operations; conducts
economic studies; builds massive domestic projects; conducts transportation
studies; regulates water resources; issues construction permits;
and builds environmental repair projects. Maybe the Corps would
be more effective if it focused on its military responsibilities
and turned over its other responsibilities to the Department of
Transportation, Department of the Interior, university researchers,
General Accounting Office and other organizations.
Unfortunately the current scandal will cast many honest, hard
working Corps employees in a bad light. In fact, Sweeneys affidavit
recounts how he and other economists working for the Corps resisted
pressure from higher ups to fudge economic data.
Ultimate responsibility for the scandal rests with Congress. Reportedly,
many people in the Corps were unhappy with the way Congress set
up the study in 1992. And Congress probably did what it did to
boost campaign contributions from the large grain exporters and
The whole mess highlights an array of problems, but the biggest
problem was caused by Congress creating the huge, grab-bag agency
that the Army Corps of Engineers has become.
Copyright 2000, Big River
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