STATEMENT OF SENATOR GEORGE V. VOINOVICH
COMMITTEE ON ENVIRONMENT AND PUBLIC WORKS
THE U.S. AMRY CORPS OF ENGINEERS
JUNE 18, 2002
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
As Chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee during the 106th Congress, I am proud to have had the opportunity to help develop the Water Resources Development Act of 1999 and to use that experience in drafting and sponsoring WRDA 2000.
Congressional authorization is an important first step in the process to develop and carry out projects that will protect our nation’s water resources infrastructure. Equally important is having an adequate level of funding to build, operate and maintain these projects.
As we on this Committee know, this nation has an aging national water resources infrastructure. If we continue to ignore the upkeep, what will result is deterioration of our locks and dams, flood control projects that are not started or not sufficient to get the job done, and navigation channels that are inadequate to meet the needs of modern waterway traffic. The risk of insufficient funding is clear: disruptions in waterborne commerce, decreased protection against floods and damage to the environment. Simply put, we desperately need more money.
Mr. Chairman, since this committee did not conduct a hearing on the Corps of Engineers’ fiscal year 2003 budget, I would like to say a few words about it. In the Administration’s FY 2003 budget, the Corps of Engineers faces overall reductions of 4 percent over fiscal year 2002, and in addition, 30 percent cuts for investigations and planning, and 16 percent cuts for construction – with virtually no "new starts" in these two accounts.
We have asked the Corps to do the impossible. The proposed 2003 funding levels are hardly adequate to make a dent in the Corps’ construction backlog, let alone to address our first priority, maintenance. The Administration budget for construction is $1.4 billion and the backlog of construction projects totals $44 billion. That is a difference of $42.6 billion. In other words, the Administration’s budget covers only 3 percent of the construction projects needed.
In Ohio, a number of important projects are under-funded. For example, the West Columbus Floodwall, which would provide flood protection to the downtown area of Columbus, would receive only one-third of the required $7.4 million needed to complete the project in fiscal year 2003. The Corps has been involved with the construction of this project since 1989. The project is a wise investment that will prevent lost of life and property for approximately 17,000 residents and more than 6,000 homes and businesses located in the current flood plain. Most of these homes and businesses remain at risk until floodwall construction is completed.
In addition, the Mill Creek Flood Damage
Reduction project in Hamilton and Butler Counties, Ohio needs $9.4 million this
year to protect a priority flood control area, but the President’s budget only
includes 11 percent of what is needed (only $1.1 million) to fund the Corps’
portion of next year’s scheduled activities.
Maintenance of our critical water infrastructure should be our first priority, yet that is not reflected in the funding. The Administration’s proposed maintenance budget for the Corps is $1.9 billion and there is already a backlog of over $700 million in maintenance projects nationwide. Under the Administrations’ budget, the projected backlog would total $884 million. So instead of reducing the maintenance backlog, we are adding to it.
The impact of insufficient maintenance funding for Ohio, which is in the Great Lakes and Ohio River Division of the Corps, would exceed $100 million – or 11 percent of the total backlog. This is a serious problem. The average lock chambers on the Ohio River, for example, are well over 60 years old and require regular maintenance.
In short, this Committee has authorized a number of environmental restoration programs for the Great Lakes and the Ohio River which have not been included in the Administration’s budget requests. Fortunately, Congress has appropriated small amounts of funding for these worthy programs. Still, I believe Congress and the Administration can do more to fund these programs to protect and restore the ecosystems of the Great Lakes and Ohio River and to protect our domestic infrastructure.
One of the most significant reasons that the Corps has such wide funding gaps between what is needed and what is budgeted is the decreasing federal investment in water resources infrastructure over the last several decades. Nonetheless, the Corps’ mission has continued to expand into new areas. While I do not, as a general rule, advocate increased levels of federal spending, I do favor spending our limited federal resources on the right things.
Moreover, I believe our infrastructure is vitally important to our domestic security. I look forward to hearing from our witnesses this afternoon to learn how Corps projects fit in with homeland security and about their
But all we need to do is compare recent funding levels. [CHART: Here is a familiar chart and one I’ve used before.] Our capital investment in the Corps of Engineers has dropped dramatically over the years. In 1966 at its peak, the appropriation was $5 billion and by the 1990s it averaged only $1.6 billion. For FY 2003, the administration’s construction request is $1.4 billion. So we’re spending less – even less than we were a few years ago, and we’re asking the Corps to do more things. We’ve expanded the mission for the Corps of Engineers substantially and given them less money. No wonder they have serious problems.
Everybody’s talking about their new homeland security issues and yet we’re already at a disadvantage in terms of our infrastructure. What if our bridges and dams go out? We don’t need Usama bin Laden to destroy our assets and interstate commerce or travel – we’re doing it to ourselves!
Today we are also going to hear about legislative proposals to reform the Corps of Engineers and how they do business. I believe that Congress and the Administration need to develop a strategy to address the Corps’ backlog and improve the effectiveness of investments in our nation’s water resources infrastructure. This strategy should as its priority address projects that are economically-justified, environmentally-acceptable, and supported by willing and financially-capable non-federal sponsors.
As the former Chairman of the Subcommittee with jurisdiction over the civil works of the Corps, I know very well how the Corps has been scrutinized and criticized over the last couple of years. At the same time, the Army Inspector General has substantiated allegations that officials of the Corps exerted improper influence and manipulated a cost-benefit analysis in order to justify lock extensions on the Upper Mississippi River – Illinois Waterway.
These findings raise doubts about the
integrity of the Corps’ project evaluation and development processes. Quite frankly, there are many in Congress
who have lost faith in the Corps. I
believe, however, that the Corps plays a vital role in navigation, storm-damage
mitigation, and environmental restoration throughout the United States and that
should assess the situation thoroughly and fairly before we insist on
The Corps needs to ensure that its planning process is open, objective, and inclusive, and that each project evaluation meets the highest standards of professionalism and quality. Furthermore, we in Congress must be able to rely on the Corps to recommend for authorization and funding only projects that provide a high return on investment of taxpayers’ dollars for economic development and environmental quality.
To that end, I supported a provision in WRDA 2000 directing the National Academy of Sciences to conduct two critical studies: 1) an independent peer review of Corps projects and 2) a study of Corps methods for conducting economic and environmental analyses of projects. These results are due this summer and I look forward reviewing the reports.
Mr. Chairman, this is an important issue and I look forward to hearing from our witnesses this afternoon on all of the challenges facing the Corps of Engineers and the reforms they believe are necessary to restore confidence and integrity in the Corps’ ability to meet our nation’s water resources needs. Once we have all the facts, we will be able to determine whether it is advisable to incorporate any reforms in the legislation for management of the Corps.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.