Thank you Chairman Boxer for holding this hearing, and thank you Secretary Woodley and General Van Antwerp for testifying before us today.
Today’s hearing is to look at the President’s fiscal year 2009 budget request for the Corps of Engineers as well as the implementation of WRDA 2007. Let me first say a few words about WRDA 2007 before I speak to the budget request. Many of us on this committee worked very hard for several years to enact what should have been WRDA 2002. Instead, we had 5 extra years in which project cost estimates increased significantly and many local communities had to hope that the delay wouldn’t prove disastrous. We owe these local communities and federal taxpayers nationwide better than that.
In order to avoid these circumstances going forward, Senator Boxer and I have both previously indicated how important we feel it is to get back on a two-year cycle by working on a WRDA 2008. Today I want to reaffirm my commitment to doing so.
We should not underestimate how important the many project authorizations and policy improvements in WRDA 2007 are to the country’s economy, public safety and environment. I look forward to hearing from the Assistant Secretary and the Chief what their plans are for speedy implementation of these many important provisions.
As far as the President’s budget request for FY09, I have to say that I was extremely disappointed to see that this request was not only a significant decrease from FY08 enacted levels, but that it was even a decrease from the FY08 budget request. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for a Presidential budget request to come in under the previous year’s enacted levels. It doesn’t seem to matter which party is in the White House or which party controls Congress, Congress typically does more to acknowledge and address our water resources needs than does the executive branch. To see a reduction from last year’s budget request, however, is truly disheartening.
As a fiscal conservative, I strongly support the overall goal of reigning in government spending, but I firmly believe that the two things the federal government should spend money on are defense and infrastructure. It may not be as exciting or headline-grabbing as some other areas of government spending, but a robust and well-maintained national infrastructure system is what allows our economy to remain strong and continue to grow.
I was pleased to see the Administration acknowledge the need for continued investment in our inland waterways system. Just from a parochial perspective, I know that the McKlellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System in Oklahoma and Arkansas could function much more efficiently and productively if we proceed with deepening it to 12 feet from its current 9 foot depth. I am not fundamentally opposed to user fees where appropriate, but I plan to wait for more details before deciding whether to support or oppose this proposal.
Finally, let me convey my appreciation for the Corps’ work in subsidence reporting, clean up and resident assistance at the Tar Creek Superfund site. The Corps has consistently responded quickly and helpfully to the variety of issues that have arisen during our efforts at this site.
I look forward to hearing the witness testimony and to discussing these issues in more depth during the question and answer period.