Army Corps of Engineers caught in web of political wrangling

Lawmakers fearful of job losses in their home states block Army Corps of Engineers' attempts to reorganize

As government officials strive to streamline agency operations, one agency has been unable to restructure to become leaner because members of Congress won't have it, according a report released today.

The Army Corps of Engineers has tried numerous times to reorganize, but a perceived risk of reduced services and job losses has made — and apparently will continue to do so — lawmakers resist plans to streamline, current and former corps officials have told the Government Accountability Office.

In 1991, officials attempted to close 13 districts and four divisions using a base realignment strategy, which was intended to provide a fair process for the closures. However, members of Congress stopped it. Former officials told GAO that a congressman who opposed the corps' decision to move a facility to a different congressional district blocked the plan.


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In 1997, the Corps took another approach: It eliminated four division offices rather than district offices. The division offices have fewer employees, and closing those offices would not raise as much ruckus in a congressional area, the report states.

Former officials also said the corps districts, which are largely autonomous, have historically had a close relationship with their elected representatives in Congress.

“The inability to obtain congressional support for any corps realignment efforts that include closing districts and divisions will continue to be a factor in the foreseeable future,” several senior officials told GAO.

Along with opposition from Capitol Hill, the corps has problems with efficiency because of its funding model. Instead of having a budget for broad programs, it receives funding for each project. That structure creates inefficiencies and project delays, and it increases costs because project managers aren't sure Congress will appropriate money for the project, GAO said.

GAO recommended that the corps work with Congress to develop a more stable approach to funding projects. And Defense Department officials agreed, at least somewhat, with GAO that projects often are not funded with efficiency in mind.

“The administration and Congress are generally aware of this fact,” an Army official wrote.

The corps will continue to promote efficiency in funding during the budget process, the official wrote, but “once budget decisions are made, the corps will support the administration and Congress.”

About the Author

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.

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