Third in a series of Big River artilces on the Army Corps Navigation Study.

Corps Reformed and Unreformed

By Reggie McLeod
From Big River May 2000

Army Secretary Louis Caldera announced tough reforms for the Army Corps of Engineers at the end of March. A week later, under pressure from three Republican senators, he suspended his orders.

The senators, Appropriations Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), Armed Services Chairman John W. Warner (R-Virginia) and Public Works Chairman Robert C. Smith (R-N.H.), said they feared the reforms would politicize the Corps. They asked Caldera to suspend the reforms until the end of the Clinton administration, according to articles in the Washington Post.

The reforms would have transferred responsibility for the agency to assistant Army secretary Joseph Westphal. This and other steps would have transferred power from military employees of the Corps to civilian employees. The Corps’ military commander, Lt. Gen. Joe Ballard, will retire in June.

Meanwhile, another Republican senator, George Voinovich, Ohio, wants congressional auditors to investigate the Corps’ proposed project to restore the Everglades. He accused the Corps of asking for $1.1 billion to start the project before completing engineering plans and feasibility studies.

Voinovich claims that the project was rushed in order to win Vice President Al Gore votes in Florida in next fall’s election.

Meanwhile, shippers and corn growers are buying radio ads to campaign for taxpayer-funded expansion of the lock-and-dam system, even though the incomplete, $50 million Upper Mississippi River, Illinois Waterway Navigation System Feasibility Study (Navigation Study) is under investigation by the National Science Foundation, the Pentagon, Congress and the Office of Special Counsel.

This debate over the role of the Corps began in February, when Corps economist Donald C. Sweeney filed a whistle-blower suit with the Office of Special Counsel accusing the Corps of fabricating economic data to justify expanding the lock-and-dam system. He also accused the Corps of launching a program to increase its funding by $100 million a year (see “Did the Corps Cook the Books?” and “What is the Corps’ Job?” Big River March and April 2000).
Sweeney was in charge of the economics part of the Navigation Study. When the research he supervised found that costly expansion of the system was not economically feasible, he was taken off the study.

Meanwhile, there is talk in Congress of privatizing some of the Corps’ responsibilities and transferring some to the Department of the Interior.

Reggie McLeod is editor and publisher of Big River, an independent magazine about the Upper Mississippi River.

Copyright 2000, Big River

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