The American Society of Civil Engineers
Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, and Related Agencies
U.S. House of Representatives
on the FY 2012 Bugets of
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and The Bureau of Reclamation
April 15, 2011
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee:
The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) is pleased to provide this statement for the record on the proposed budgets of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and the Bureau of Reclamation for Fiscal Year 2012.
A. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
The FY 2012 budget provides $4.6 billion. The president’s budget for FY 2012 for these agencies is inadequate and must be increased. Congress must expand funding for FY 2012, and the continuing resolution for fiscal year 2011 must at a minimum restore funding for these agencies to their FY 2010 levels for key infrastructure program accounts.
ASCE recommends a minimum appropriation of $5 billion for the Corps of Engineers in FY 2012 to reverse the budget trajectory to ensure safe infrastructure and a sound economy.
Unfortunately, the FY 2012 budget resolution released by the House Budget Committee last week would further erode the nation’s capacity to rebuild its aging water resources infrastructure.
The administration proposal would fund the operation and maintenance of more than 600 flood and storm damage reduction projects, 143 commercial coastal navigation projects, and 51 commercial navigation projects on the inland waterways, according to USACE statements. It also funds construction of 90 projects where construction is already under way as well as two new construction starts.
The budget would fund 58 studies already under way and studies for four new starts. It will enable the Corps to process approximately 70,000 permit requests and to operate 75 hydropower plants with 350 generating units that produce about 24,000 megawatts per year. The budget will enable about 370 million outdoor recreational visits to Corps projects and will provide water supply storage for about 14 percent of the nation’s municipal water needs.
Nevertheless, the president proposes to reduce spending on critical Corps of Engineers infrastructure programs in FY 2012. The funding for Civil Works in the 2012 Budget is about 15 percent below the enacted amount of $5.445 billion in FY 2010. It is about 6 percent below the FY 2011(unenacted) budget level. These budget cuts must be reversed to ensure safe infrastructure and a sound economy.
More recently, the House passed a continuing resolution that would cut $516 million from the Civil Works program in FY 2011. The presidential and congressional reductions continue the unfortunate trend toward under investing in federal infrastructure that saves lives and promotes economic growth.
In 2005, Hurricane Katrina vividly demonstrated the perils of relying upon poorly funded infrastructure to protect lives and property. An ASCE investigation (conducted on behalf of the Corps of Engineers) reported in 2007 that chronic under funding was one of the principal causes of the levee failures after Katrina.
Because of the congressional budgeting process, the stream of funding for the New Orleans hurricane protection system was irregular at best. If a project was not sufficiently funded, the USACE was often required to delay implementation or to scale back the project.
This push-pull mechanism for the funding of critical life-safety structures such as the New Orleans hurricane protection system is essentially flawed. The process creates a disconnect between those responsible for design and construction decisions and those responsible for managing the purse-strings. Inevitably, the pressure for tradeoffs and low-cost solutions compromised quality, safety, and reliability.
The project-by-project approach—in which projects are built over time based on the availability of funding—resulted in the hurricane protection system being constructed piecemeal with an overall lack of attention to “system” issues. The project-by-project approach appears to be associated with congressional limitations. The USACE was forced into a “reductionist’s” way of thinking: reduce the problem into one that can be solved within the given authority and budget. Focus only on the primary problem to be solved, inevitably making the issues of risk, redundancy, and resilience a lower priority.
American Society of Civil Engineers, The New Orleans Hurricane Protection System 71-72 (2007).
Problems continue on a larger scale: forty-one states, including all states east of the Mississippi River and 16 state capitals, are served by commercially navigable waterways. The U.S. inland waterway system consists of 12,000 miles of navigable waterways in four systems—the Mississippi River, the Ohio River Basin, the Gulf Intercoastal Waterway, and the Pacific Coast systems—that connect with most states in the U.S. The system comprises 257 locks, which raise and lower river traffic between stretches of water of different levels.
Forty-seven percent of all locks maintained by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers were classified as functionally obsolete in 2006. Assuming that no new locks are built within the next 20 years, by 2020, another 93 existing locks will be obsolete—rendering more than 8 out of every 10 locks now in service outdated.
The Corps of Engineers continues to suffer from many years of under funding for essential infrastructure systems. If allowed to continue, this trend likely will result in ever greater system failures and the consequent expenditure of tens of billions of dollars to rebuild what could have been built more economically in the first instance.
In the face of the Corps’ aging infrastructure needs, the president's budget for the Civil Works Program in FY 2012 reduces federal investments in essential national civil works systems. Moreover, the negative budgeting trend is not likely to improve in future years. The Corps estimates that its budget proposals will continue to decline through FY 2015, with a low estimate of $4.5 billion for FY 2013. The Corps expects that inflation will reduce actual spending on key infrastructure programs by a further $3 billion over the next five years. ASCE believes that these levels of spending are inadequate to meet the nation’s security, economic and environmental demands in the 21st century.
To cite one striking example, in 1986, Congress enacted the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF) to provide federal funding for the operation and maintenance (O&M) costs at U.S. coastal and Great Lakes harbors from maritime shippers. O&M costs involve mostly the dredging of harbor channels to their authorized depths and widths. The HMTF is financed by a tax on importers and domestic shippers using coastal or Great Lakes ports. The tax is assessed at a rate of 0.125 percent of cargo value ($1.25 per $1,000 in cargo value).
In FY 2012, the HMTF balance will be an estimated at $6.1 billion. The administration is requesting $732 million in FY 2012 for the O&M of channels and harbors—equal to 45 percent of the anticipated FY 2012 revenues of nearly $1.6 billion and to about eight percent of the fund’s anticipated year-end balance. Despite this large and growing surplus in the trust fund, the busiest U.S. harbors are presently under maintained. The Corps of Engineers estimates that full channel dimensions at the nation's busiest 59 ports are available less than 35 percent of the time. This situation can increase the cost of shipping as vessels carry less cargo in order to reduce their draft or wait for high tide before transiting a harbor. It could also increase the risk of a ship grounding or collision.
ASCE strongly supports enactment of H.R. 104, the Realize America's Maritime Promise Act, which would require that all revenues flowing into the HMTF (plus any interest earned) in any fiscal year would be appropriated for O&M expenses at harbors and channels.
ASCE recommends an appropriation of $1.597 billion from the HMTF for operations and maintenance of harbors in FY 2012, an amount equal to the total revenues (taxes and interest) to be received into the trust fund.
B. Bureau of Reclamation
The FY 2012 budget request for Water and Related Resources, Reclamation’s principal operating account, is $805.2 million, a decrease of $108.4 million from the FY 2011 request.
The request includes a total of $398.5 million for water and energy, land, and fish and wildlife resource management and development activities. Funding in these activities provides for planning, construction, water conservation activities, management of Reclamation lands, including recreation, and actions to address the impacts of Reclamation projects on fish and wildlife.
The request also provides $406.7 million for water and power facility operations, maintenance, and rehabilitation activities. Reclamation’s FY 2012 budget request is $1 billion, which includes $53.1 million for the Central Valley Project Restoration Fund (CVPRF). This request is offset by discretionary receipts in the CVPRF, estimated to be $52.8 million. The request for permanent appropriations in FY 2012 totals $194.5 million.
ASCE recommends an appropriation of $1.2 billion for the Bureau of Reclamation in FY 2012.
It is not clear how federal agencies will continue to pay for essential infrastructure systems with greatly reduced appropriations. “Doing more with less” may seem like a workable fiscal solution to some, but it is obvious that drastic budget cuts or the complete elimination of funding will mean little or nothing will be done to maintain these vital programs.
Enabling the eventual failure of the nation’s essential public infrastructure through arbitrary budget-cutting is deeply troubling. Placing abstract notions of budget deficits above the primary duty of the federal government to protect human life is a dubious policy choice—a choice whose lethal consequences were amply demonstrated in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and the failure of that city’s inadequately designed and constructed levee system. They will never be able to escape the knowledge that they were complicit in the failure. One thing Congress may never be allowed to say: We weren’t told.