I am pleased the Committee is holding this hearing to discuss the role of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in meeting our water resource needs. I am pleased at the work the Corps is doing in Nevada and nationwide, however, they need our help to continue.
There are more projects than there is funding, so we need to work together to pass a Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) this year that increases project authorizations.
Last year, the Corps received $4.57 billion for the Civil Work Program. The President’s FY2005 budget request is for $4.22 billion, however, there are several problems with the President’s request. First, it circumvents public participation in Corps projects by dictating that all Corps project studies designed to identify technically feasible, environmentally-acceptable, and cost effective project alternatives go to the Office of Management and Budget before being presented for public comment. This is inconsistent with the NEPA statute. The appropriate process is for the Corps of Engineers to conduct a study, provide multiple alternatives for the public to review, collect public comments, and select an alternative based on that public process.
Second, it forces the Corps to breach agreements with local sponsors by zeroing out projects where the Corps has undertaken a beach re-nourishment project with such a local sponsor and signed a project cooperation agreement, or PCA. Many ongoing projects hold signed PCAs and receive funding through Congressional adds, however, the Administration plans to release a policy via letters to every individual community with a beach re-nourishment project explaining the federal government is pulling out of all existing PCAs to conduct periodic beach re-nourishment, thereby breaching all of those existing contracts.
Additionally, it cancels 43 ongoing projects in several states, and would mean that projects that have already received FY 2004 funding would lose that funding. The Administration arbitrarily reduced the number of projects to be funded during the Project Engineering and Design (PED) phase from 47 to 22. This reduction breaks standing agreements with local sponsors who are contributing 50% of the funding for this phase of a project. In Fiscal Year 2004, 75 PED projects were funded.
The President’s Fiscal Year 2005 budget includes a policy that there will be no new contract awards for any projects other than 8 high priority projects selected by the Administration. There are currently 1,000 ongoing construction projects, 992 of which will be stalled by this new policy. The funding for the Corps to study projects is drastically reduced from $117 million appropriated in 2004 to $90 million requested by the Administration for FY 2005.
Lastly, $35 million is allocated in the President’s Budget to the Assistant Secretary of the Army’s office for use in “emergencies.” The Corps has existing emergency response responsibilities and capabilities that are funded through the normal process. This money could be better allocated elsewhere.
While there is much work to be done, I am looking forward to working with all the Members of this Committee on an authorizing bill that meets the needs of the Corps. I am pleased that the Chairman has plans to move WRDA forward as quickly as possible so our projects can continue.