Statement of Senator Bob Smith
Ranking Republican Member
Senate Environment and Public Works Committee
Full Committee Hearing: Corps Reform and WRDA 2002
Good afternoon. I would like to thank everyone for coming today to discuss issues pertaining to the water resources development program within the Corps of Engineers. Specifically, I hope to see this hearing highlight an issue of great importance to me: Corps Reform. I expect Corps Reform to be an integral component of the Water Resources Development Act of 2002.
I would like to take a moment to state for the record: contrary to what has been said about me, I am not opposed to the Corps of Engineers. The Corps certainly has an important role to play in both the national security of our country and in its mission areas of navigation, flood damage reduction, and environmental restoration. However, I think we have a unique opportunity to help the Corps address some of its internal problems that have resulted in a loss of confidence in this agency. Incident after incident of flawed analyses, overstatement of benefits, flat out miscalculations – whether intentional or accidental – are not only difficult to ignore, but outright intolerable.
Initially, I wanted to give the benefit of the doubt to the Corps. I’d like to quote my friend Senator Voinovich, who at a Corps budget hearing last year said, “fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” Enough chances have been given to the Corps to take meaningful steps internally to address concerns.
One cannot overlook reports in 1999, 2000, 2001, and most recently, last week, issued by such impartial, non-partisan institutions such as the National Academy of Sciences, the General Accounting Office, the Army Inspector General, all of which contain the same message: something is not right in the Corps. Something is broken. And it needs fixing.
It is clear to me now that legislation is necessary to help the Corps fix what’s broken. I want to work with the Administration and my colleagues on the Committee to negotiate something meaningful, yet effective. I am sure you all know by now that I introduced legislation, “the Corps Modernization and Improvement Act” to reform the Corps. In fact, I would like to thank my colleague and co-sponsor, Senator Feingold, for joining us here today to give his views on the issue. I have to credit him with first bringing the issue to my attention two years ago when we were on the Senate floor considering the 2000 WRDA bill. I look forward to working with him to usher Corps Reform through this committee and the Senate.
One theme repeated in the written testimony of those who are opposed to reforming the Corps is that the Independent Peer Review process will unnecessarily delay the study process and will raise project costs. I would like to quickly address those concerns.
First of all, Peer Review would not apply to each and every project that the Corps constructs. I view this as only applying to a small handful of projects that for some reason or another merit further external review. Also, the way the provision is structured in my bill, the review would be conducted concurrently with headquarters review. It is ridiculous to think that a 180-day concurrent review is going to add years to the study process. Unless of course, that review reveals major flaws in the project analysis, in which case, the project should not go forward until the study is revised anyway.
Many have asked me why I am not waiting for recommendations from the National Academy of Sciences, which is due to issue a report this summer on Independent Review. For one, I think I understand enough about the issue to formulate a meaningful procedure. Secondly, if the Academy comes out with a recommendation that is dramatically different than what I have in my bill, I will look at revising my provision as the WRDA bill moves through the legislative process. Finally, I think this issue is important enough that it is worth moving forward now.
In closing, let me make my intentions clear: there will be no WRDA 2002 without Corps Reform. In case you didn’t hear that, I repeat: NO WRDA WITHOUT CORPS REFORM. With that said, for those who are opposed, instead of issuing threats to hold up any WRDA bill that includes reform, work with me, and work with the community that supports Corps Reform to resolve our issues so that we can attempt to reach a workable compromise.
With that said, I look forward to the discourse we are about to hear.