Government Accountability Office

The Army Corps of Engineers feasibility study for a watershed project in Hawaii began in March 2001 and did not wrap up until December 2017, a span of 201 months.

Such time frames led Congress to order the civil works agency in recent years to streamline this process and cut down on the duration from a project’s conception to completion.

A recent report by the Government Accountability Office, delivered to, among others, Missouri Congressman Sam Graves as the top Republican on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said the Corps has made progress but lags on some provisions in complying with the law.

“The Corps has taken steps to address the acceleration provisions in (the legislation), such as those related to coordination,” the report said. “However, it has not fully addressed provisions related to environmental review or public transparency.”

Further, noted the report, Corps officials failed to reveal a blueprint for implementing the other parts of the requirements.

The legislation in question is the Water Resources Reform and Development Act, which became law in 2014. It authorized key missions of the Army Corps, but it also included mandates for reduced bureaucracy and accelerated fact-finding.

Graves, a frequent critic of the Corps’ river management, has his 6th Congressional District bounded on the western and eastern edges by the Missouri and Mississippi rivers. The Corps operates dams on both waterways.

“The problem is the priority is no longer flood control and navigation,” the Republican lawmaker said last week at a meeting with transportation officials in Springfield, Illinois. “The priority is fish and wildlife, and tourism. When you manage based on that, you’re going to continue to have these (flood) events.”

The main streamlining principle codified in the 2014 law goes informally as the “3x3x3” rule: A study is to be completed within three years for less than $3 million and clear through three levels of jurisdiction, Corps headquarters, divisional office and district office.

At the time of the WRRDA passage by the U.S. House in late 2013, Graves praised this approach.

“Red tape is holding up worthwhile projects,” the lawmaker said then. “Presently, the Corps does not have a time limit for reviewing projects before making a decision as to their feasibility.”

According to the GAO report, which looked into 19 feasibility studies initiated after June 2014, the Corps had seven with complete milestone data.

The report also noted that Corps officials gave assurances of requiring the entry of milestone information in a central data system, but written policies did not reflect these assurances.

“Without clarifying its policy to help ensure officials enter data on all milestones in the central data system, the Corps will not have complete data to efficiently monitor the progress of feasibility studies,” the report said.

Ken Newton can be reached


Follow him on Twitter: @SJNPNewton.