Statement by Senator Tom Daschle
Committee on Environment and Public Works
June 18, 2002
Mr. Chairman, thank you for inviting me to testify today at this hearing. I am here to express my strong belief that fundamental reform of the Corps of Engineers is necessary not only to protect the nation=s environment, but also to protect the integrity of the process by which Congress authorizes Corps projects and to restore the severely damaged credibility of the Corps itself.
In that regard, I want to commend the Committee for taking up the Water Resources Development Act, and for recognizing that passage of any new authorizing legislation for the Corps of Engineers should be accompanied by meaningful reform legislation. I also want to encourage the Committee to include many of the provisions of S. 1987 in the next Water Resources Development Act. This bill is a thoughtful and justifiable response to the ongoing problems associated with the Corps of Engineers, and I will cosponsor it today.
My one reservation about the bill is the establishment of a benefit-to-cost ratio of 1.5. It has been my experience that some projects with lesser benefit-to-cost ratios are defensible, while some with higher benefit-to-cost ratios may not be justified. I think it is important that Congress establish a more sensitive metric for evaluating projects than simply increasing the minimum benefit-to-cost ratio, and I would like to explore this issue further with the Committee.
Mr. Chairman, I have advocated reform of the Corps of Engineers for years. In fact, in March of 2000, I introduced S. 2309, the Corps of Engineers Civil Works Independent Investigation and Review Act, calling for an independent review of the Corps of Engineers. That bill established an independent commission to take a hard look at the Corps.
At the time, I was extremely concerned by evidence that the Corps was neglecting its responsibilities to comply with the nation=s environmental laws and was systematically engaged in producing fraudulent analyses of proposed projects to manufacture economic justifications in cases where factual analyses could not have supported their authorization by Congress.
Two years ago the Washington Post published a number of very troubling articles about the operations of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Those stories exposed the existence of independent agendas within the Corps. They suggested cost‑benefit analyses rigged to justify billion dollar projects, disregard for environmental laws, and a pattern of catering to special interests.
The actions described in the Post articles raise serious questions about the accountability of the Corps and present a compelling case for a thorough review of the agency's operations and management.
And it is not only the Post articles that cause me to believe this.
The Corps' current effort to update the Missouri River Master Control Manual ‑‑ the policy document that governs the Corps' management of the river from Montana to Missouri ‑‑ illustrates not only that the Corps can be indifferent to the environment. It also demonstrates that the close relationship of the Corps to the barge industry often drives the Corps= willingness to manipulate and falsify data and analyses to protect those special interests and justify the work of the Corps in supporting those activities.
On the Missouri River, for example, the Corps has taken pains to protect the $7 million barge industry at the expense of public recreational opportunities and fish and wildlife. One important factor that motivates the Corps= actions is its ongoing program to maintain the barge channel B a Corps jobs program that costs taxpayers over $7 million per year B more than the value of the barge industry itself.
This example ought to be a concern to all Americans. It is a deep concern to South Dakotans. The Missouri runs down the center of our state and is a major source of income, recreation and pride for us. More than 40 years ago, the Corps built dams up and down the Missouri River in order to harness hydroelectric power. In return, it was expected to manage the river wisely, and in compliance with the nation=s laws.
The Corps has not kept that trust. The Missouri river is dying a slow death. And the Corps continues to bend over backwards to ensure that the management changes necessary to meet the requirements of the Endangered Species Act and recover the health of the river are not made.
In recent years, studies have been done to determine how to restore the river to health. An overwhelming amount of scientific and technical data all point to the same conclusion. The flow of the river needs to more closely mimic nature. Flows should be higher in the spring, and lower in the summer ‑‑ just as they are in nature.
Yet, if and when the Corps ever releases its plan for managing the river -- and after 12 years of study, that is still in doubt -- observers expect that it will propose to continue doing largely what it has been doing all these years. That is what most expect, despite knowing exactly what the practices have produced now for the last 40‑plus years. The agency's refusal to change will further jeopardize endangered species. And, it will continue to erode the natural beauty and recreational value of the river.
The Washington Post series suggested that the Corps= handling of the Missouri River Master Manual is not an isolated case. The Post articles contained allegations by a Corps whistleblower who says that a study of proposed upper‑Mississippi lock expansions was rigged to provide an economic justification for that billion‑dollar project. In response to these allegations, the Corps' own Office of Special Counsel concluded that the agency Aprobably broke laws and engaged in a gross waste of funds.@
In my own dealings with the Corps of Engineers, I, too, have experienced the institutional problems recorded so starkly in the Post series. In South Dakota, where the Corps operates four hydroelectric dams, we have fought for more than 40 years to force the agency to meet its responsibilities under the 1958 Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act and mitigate the loss of wildlife habitat resulting from the construction of those dams.
For 40 years, the Corps has failed to meet those responsibilities. That is why I have worked closely with the Governor of my state, Bill Janklow, and with many other South Dakotans, to come up with a plan to transfer Corps lands back to the state of South Dakota and two Indian tribes. Unfortunately, instead of attempting to work with us, the Corps fought us for years -- hoping to prevent us from reinforcing the precedent that the Corps is responsible for mitigating the environmental damage caused by its projects.
Just last week, the Post described a new General Accounting Office report on a project in Delaware, where once again fraudulent analysis was performed to justify moving forward when it appears an objective analysis would have concluded the opposite. When considered in the context of the litany of problems that have come to light in the Post, Congress has no choice but to enact serious reforms prior to providing the agency with any new authority.
In a democracy, institutions of government must be held accountable by representatives of the people. That is the job of Congress ‑‑ to hold that agency responsible and make sure it follows the nation=s laws and provides lawmakers with accurate information upon which million- and billion-dollar decisions are made.
Contempt for environmental laws and self‑serving economic analyses simply cannot be tolerated if Congress is to make well‑informed decisions regarding the authorization of expensive projects, and if the American taxpayer is to be assured that federal monies are being spent wisely.
The Corps of Engineers provides a valuable national service. It constructs and manages needed projects throughout the country. The size and scope of the biannual Water Resources Development Act is clear evidence of the importance of the Corps' civil works mission. Because the Corps' work is so critical, it is essential that steps be taken immediately to determine the extent of the problems within the agency ‑‑ and to design meaningful and lasting reforms to correct them. Our nation needs a civil works program we can depend on. We need a Corps of Engineers that conducts credible analysis.
We need a Corps that balances economic development and environmental protection as required by its mandate ‑‑ not one that ignores environmental laws as it chooses. History does not offer much room for confidence that the Army Corps of Engineers can meet these standards under its current management system.
Consequently, I urge this committee to take a hard and systematic look at the Corps and include reforms in the next Water Resources Development Act to address these obvious problems. In particular, I hope the Committee will look at the Corps' compliance with environmental laws, the quality and objectivity of the agency's scientific and economic analysis, the extent to which the Corps coordinates and cooperates with other state and federal agencies in designing and implementing projects, and the appropriateness of the agency's size, budget and personnel.
It is my hope that all those who care about the integrity of the Army Corps of Engineers and its mission will support an effort by this committee to identify and implement whatever reforms are necessary to rebuild public support for its work. I look forward to working with all members of the Committee to help craft responsible reform legislation, and I encourage you to look to the provisions of S. 1987 as a basis for needed reform in this year=s Water Resources Development Act.