By Alex Laplaza
On February 24, 2016 the House Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment held a hearing titled, “A Review of United States Army Corps of Engineers Reports to Congress on Future Water Resources Development and Chief’s Reports.”
This hearing was intended to provide Members with an opportunity to review the Reports to Congress on Future Water Resources Development and the Chief’s Reports, particularly the 24 pending Chief’s Reports submitted to Congress since enactment of the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014 (WRRDA 2014), and the process the Corps undertakes when developing its projects and activities that benefit the Nation.
Members present included: Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (PA-9), Committee Ranking Member Peter DeFazio (OR-4), Subcommittee Chairman Bob Gibbs (OH-7), and representatives Lois Frankel (FL-22), John Garamendi (CA-3), Garret Graves (LA-6), Eddie Johnson (TX-30), Ann Kirkpatrick (AZ-1), Eleanor Norton (DC-0), Todd Rokita (IN-4), David Rouzer (NC-7), Mark Sanford (SC-1), and Daniel Webster (FL-10).
Witnesses - Complete statements can be found here.
Jo-Ellen Darcy – Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works)
Lieutenant General Thomas Bostick – Chief of Engineers, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Subcommittee Chairman Bob Gibbs’s (OH-7) opening remarks underscored the strong bipartisan message sent by both Congress and the President on the importance of enhancing the Nation’s infrastructure through the enactment of the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014 (WRRDA). Chairman Gibbs quickly followed by stating that although “transformative, and in some places complicated, we remain disappointed at the pace and the prioritization at which the Corps of Engineers is carrying out the drafting of the implementation guidance. After all, WRRDA is the law of the land – it is not a suggestion for the Administration to casually disregard.” Chairman Gibbs then expressed satisfaction that improvements seen in the 2016 Annual Report are a sign of receptiveness on the part of the USACE.
Representative Ann Kirkpatrick (D-AZ), who represented Subcommittee Ranking Member Grace Napolitano, then lamented the confusion surrounding the process instituted by Section 7001 of WRDA 2014. Congresswoman Kirkpatrick claimed that communities, many with traditional water challenges, find themselves outside the annual report because they are either unaware or insufficiently informed of the process. Kirkpatrick argued, “We should not have a process so complicated that communities are forced to hire outside individuals to run the traps of both congressional committees and administration officials. Both Congress and the Corps need to find reasonable direction to address these community needs.”
Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (PA-9) seconded Rep. Kirkpatrick and emphasized the importance that Congress reenactment of WRDA on a biannual basis.
Committee Ranking Member Peter DeFazio (D-OR) also echoed Rep. Kirkpatrick’s concerns on the esoteric Section 7001 process. To emphasize the difficulty, DeFazio pointed out, “This year, we only have 61 communities that submitted [project proposals]. Back in 2007, we had 3000 project proposals that were vetted for WRDA 2007. Now there are only 61 projects across all the United States that might be eligible. I think the process is too complicated and needs some additional work on the administrative side.”
Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works Jo-Ellen Darcy responded and addressed the process by which the Annual Report is developed and the requirements and criteria a project must meet for inclusion in the report. The criteria are as follows:
- Related to the missions and authorities of the Corps.
- Require specific congressional authorization, including by an Act of Congress.
- Have not been congressionally authorized.
- Have not been included in the report table of any previous Annual Report.
- If authorized, could be carried out by the Corps.
Chief of Engineers Lieutenant General Thomas Bostick followed by giving a brief update on the progress of the three campaign goals: supporting national security, improving and modernizing the planning process, and reducing disaster risk. Gen. Bostick emphasized the challenges of funding across the federal government, then argued, “In order to complete the number of projects we are currently budgeting, we would require $19.7 billion over nearly 20 years. As a nation, we must continue to think creatively and innovatively to find ways to complete these projects beyond federal government.”
Question and Answer
Most questions and answers were specific to projects in the members’ districts. The questions asked were often data-specific and required USACE follow up post-hearing in order to respond. The complete question and answer session can be found here.
Subcommittee Chairman Bob Gibbs echoed earlier concerns about communicating how the Section 7001 process works to regional and district levels. He asked, “What’s the process, how are you verifying the process, how are you working with local project sponsors so they understand, and how is the Corps working to facilitate this new method?”
Assistant Secretary Darcy responded, saying “I think that we learned from last year and I think we can recognize that there’s been an improvement since last year’s report. We’ve done a couple things – in the public notice that goes out in the federal register, we’ve outlined the process for the local sponsors so that there’s more of a template on what is required in order to submit a proposal. We also have put this all online so that it’s web-based and everyone can see what the proposals are and what is required. We’ve also, at the district level, engaged all of our district commanders and staff to help local sponsors in developing their proposals and submitting them.”
Rep. Garret Graves (LA-6) expressed strong frustrations with the Corps in terms of project delivery, particularly with regards to longstanding projects in southern Louisiana. He pointed out that the USACE budget numbers are relatively stagnant, while the President, Department of Housing and Urban Affairs, and FEMA are all awarding grants towards Corps-related missions. Rep. Graves then claimed that the Corps chooses winners and loser and further compounds the problem by falsely leading vulnerable communities to believe that project funding may eventually come.
For more information, contact Alex Laplaza at firstname.lastname@example.org.