The United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) works with both engineering and environmental matters. The Corps’ responsibilities include designing and constructing flood control systems, such as navigation locks and dams, beach nourishment projects, environmental regulation, ecosystem restoration, and engineering services. The USACE is also involved in a wide range of public works projects pertaining to the Department of Defense.
The origin of the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) can be traced back to 1775, when George Washington appointed the first engineer officers during the American Revolution on June 16 of that year. It was on March 16, 1802, when the U.S. Army established the Corps of Engineers as a separate, permanent entity. Since then the Corps has served in every American war. From the start, the U.S. government wanted the Corps to contribute to both military construction and works of a civil nature.
Throughout the 19th century, the Corps built and supervised coastal fortifications, including an expansion of fortifications to protect New York Harbor in the lead-up to the War of 1812. Additional construction was done in the war’s aftermath, and Congress doubled the size of the Corps in 1938 to fuel fortification projects for another decade. The USACE also built lighthouses, jetties and piers, eliminated navigational hazards, and constructed buildings and monuments in the nation’s Capitol. The Corps helped design and construct the Lincoln Memorial, the Government Printing Office, the Executive Office Building, and the Library of Congress, along with several other monuments around the U.S. It also completed construction of the Washington Monument. The USACE’s work helped the Panama Canal Commission to overcome some of the most difficult obstacles that it faced during its construction of the Panama Canal, which opened in August 1914.
The construction, maintenance and rehabilitation of canals and river navigation features were performed by engineer officers throughout the 19th century and well into the 20th century. Also during the 1800s, the Corps became involved in road construction, railroad work, and topographical surveys. USACE engineers were also heavily involved in mapping and construction services during the Mexican, Civil and World wars.
In the 20th century, the Corps became the lead federal flood control agency, and its role as major provider of hydroelectric energy and its role in responding to natural disasters grew tremendously. It participated in three major projects during the New Deal, as President Franklin Roosevelt encouraged development of federal hydropower projects to provide consumers with low-cost energy.
In 1927, the USACE’s mission was influenced by one of the worst disasters in the nation’s history—a massive 16-acre flood that inundated the lower Mississippi Valley, killing between 250 and 500 people, and forcing 500,000 from their homes and into refugee camps. Congress responded by approving the 1928 Flood Control Act, which incorporated a water disbursement plan drawn up by the chief of engineers. This act launched what is now known as the Mississippi River and Tributaries Project, which has prevented over $100 billion worth of damages since 1928.
Flood control formally became the activity of the federal government with Congress’s passing of the 1936 Flood Control Act. The 1944 Flood Control Act empowered the secretary of the interior to sell power produced at the USACE and other federal projects. The Corps subsequently built dams at the Missouri River, which provided flood control, irrigation, navigation, water supply, hydropower, and recreation. Such multi-purpose projects expanded following World War II, in spite of cost-based challenges from the Eisenhower administration to curb them.
Prior to entering World War II, Congress and the War Department approved the transfer of military construction responsibilities from the Quartermaster Corps to the USACE. This included such activities as building and destroying bridges, clearing mine-bearing steel structures, and opening roadways. In 1941, the Corps built facilities at home and abroad to support the U.S. Army and Air Force during the war. Domestic base production hit its peak in 1942, and has remained part of the Corps’ duties. After the war and during the Cold War, the USACE managed construction programs for America’s allies.
Addressing natural disasters has been a major part of the Corps’ mission since 1882. Among its missions were the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, the Alaskan earthquake of 1964, Hurricane Camille in 1969, the 1989 Alaskan oil spill at Prince William Sound, Hurricanes Hugo and Andrew, and the Northridge earthquake of 1994.
Although the Corps’ activities in support of the environment date back to the 1880s, it was in the late 1960s that the Corps became a leading environmental preservation and restoration agency. Since 1980, the USACE has provided engineering assistance to the Environmental Protection Agency for its civilian toxic waste removal under the Superfund program. In 1983, the Defense Environmental Restoration Program expanded the Corps' environmental work relating to military installations by adding to its duties hazardous waste disposal and the removal of unsafe buildings and debris from active and former military sites.
The USACE supported recovery efforts in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and have been involved in reconstruction efforts in both Iraq and Afghanistan. As of 2012, Corps manages $350 million worth of building projects in Iraq. The agency’s work in Afghanistan has included the awarding of a $14 million contract to a Turkish company for the construction of eight new barracks at Bagram. The buildings, which are expected to house 1,200 personnel and scheduled for completion by fall 2013, are a sign of continued U.S. presence in the war-torn country beyond the planned withdrawal of American troops.
Among the notable people who have served with the Army Corps of Engineers are:
The United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) addresses the following areas:
The USACE has a diverse work force including biologists, hydrologists, natural resource managers and other professionals. The Corps is organized geographically into eight divisions in the U.S.:
These divisions are divided by watershed boundaries rather than state boundaries. There are 41 subordinate districts throughout the U.S., Asia, and Europe.
A ninth provisional division, Transatlantic, with four districts was established in January of 2002 to oversee operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Reconstruction in Iraq has been a major project for the USACE, which repaired and improved Iraq’s infrastructure, including roads, railways, seaports, and public service facilities. It was also involved in education, health care, government, and security projects, and electricity and oil projects. Since the start of its reconstruction project in 2004, more than $13.4 billion has gone into Iraq’s building program. There has not been a program of this size, and at such a high cost, since the reconstruction of Europe under the post-WWII Marshal Plan. During the seven years of reconstruction in Iraq, the USACE completed more than 5,000 projects with a value of $8.8 billion. The agency’s support operations are expected to continue through 2014 or 2015.
From the Web Site of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Funding of the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) in FY 2013 is to be distributed as follows:
In terms of contractor spending, the USACE spent nearly $177.7 million on nearly 1,000 transactions between FY 2002 and FY 2012, according to USASpending.gov. The top five types of products or services purchased from contractors were logistics support ($43,042,428), miscellaneous professional services ($29,056,666), clay/concrete products ($14,059,290), maintenance, repair, and dredging ($11,347,993), and construction ($11,331,469). The top five recipients of contractor spending during that decade were:
1. KBR Inc. $43,042,428
2. V.F. Corporation $28,391,170
3. C.J. Mahan Construction Company LLC $16,690,322
4. Luhr Brothers Inc. $11,347,993
5. Government of the United States $11,283,908
Bribery and Kickbacks
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) was involved in the largest bid-rigging and bribery scheme in the history of U.S. federal contracting. The plot, which came to an end in 20ll, also involved the Department of the Army and had lasted four years.
Two Army Corps employees and several other defendants orchestrated the scheme, which resulted in $30 million in bribes and illegal payments, according to federal prosecutors.
Kerry F. Khan, a USACE program manager, and Michael A. Alexander, a program director, were accused of receiving kickbacks in exchange for directing government contracts to a subcontractor specializing in software encryption devices and other information technology.
Khan’s son, Lee A. Khan, who controlled a consulting company with his father, was also brought up on charges. Nazim Khan, Kerry Khan’s brother, was also involved, as was Harold F. Babb, director of contracts for Eyak Technology LLC, which received a $1 billion contract from the Army Corps.
Prosecutors said the bribes and kickbacks helped pay for the purchase of more than a dozen properties, Rolex and Cartier watches, sports cars and hotel accommodations, first-class airline tickets and other personal luxuries.
All five defendants, plus seven others, pleaded guilty in the case. As of December 2012, a half-dozen had been sentenced, including Babb and Alexander, who got seven and six years in prison, respectively. The two were ordered to repay a total of more than $10 million.
Two Army Corps Officials Charged in $20 Million Fraud Conspiracy (Associated Press)
Harold Babb Sentenced in Federal Contracting Bribery Scheme (by Del Quentin Wilber, Washington Post)
Grand Ole Opry Versus Corps of Engineers
The USACE was sued in 2012 by the owner of Grand Ole Opry, which claimed the Nashville, Tennessee, flood of 2010 was the result of government negligence.
Flooding from the Cumberland River resulted in 11 deaths in Nashville, impacted 2,773 businesses, including Gibson Guitar, and left an estimated $2 billion in private property damages, including more than $250 million to the Opry and related buildings.
Suing the Army Corps for flood-related negligence has proven difficult historically, owing to a provision in the Flood Control Act of 1928 that largely prohibits lawsuits against the government when flood protection projects fail.
But plaintiffs in the Nashville case argued that the flooding was caused by mishandling of the Old Hickory Dam upriver, which was congressionally authorized as a hydroelectric and navigation project, not as a flood-control project. Thus, the Army Corps should not be immune to the lawsuit, plaintiffs argued. In late February 2013, a federal judge threw out the case, but an appeal was likely.
Grand Ole Opry sues Army Corps over damage from 2010 flood (by Richard Fausset, Los Angeles Times)
The Grand Ole Opry Files Lawsuit Regarding 2010 Flood Damage (by Cory Stromblad, Taste of Country)
Government Wants Opry Flood Lawsuit Dismissed (by Kristin Hall, Associated Press)
Intentional Flooding of Farmland
The USACE was criticized in 2011 for intentionally flooding more than 100,000 acres of farmland in Missouri.
Army Corps officials said they had no choice but to blow holes in a levee to avert high waters on the Mississippi River from inundating the town of Cairo, Illinois, population 3,000.
The farmers tried to prevent the levee breach by appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court. But the high court refused to intercede.
The flooding destroyed 130,000 acres of farmland, causing $100 million in economic damages. It also impacted about 100 homes in the area.
A month after the flooding, some farmers received a letter from the Army Corps’ Kansas City district office asking them if they wanted to sell their land.
Some landowners were incensed by the offer as they fought to hold on to their farms and recover from the flooding.
Mo. Levee Blast Inundates Acres of Farmland (by Melanie Eversley, USA Today)
South Dakota Asks Corps to Stop Dumping Sediment into the Missouri River
Residents of South Dakota complained in 2011 about the USACE plan to dump sediments into the Missouri River.
Army Corps experts said it was necessary to flush sediment out of Lewis and Clark Lake, which would result in releasing 176,000 cubic feet per second of water into the Missouri.
The timing of the plan was particularly bad for Yankton, South Dakota, which had just endured flooding that year.
The USACE’s plan was five years in the making after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services issued a biological opinion on the lake. Officials said their study focused on the engineering feasibility, including data from similar flushing done in Pakistan and China, not on economic, environmental and political factors stemming from the water release.
Which Way Will The Sediment Issue Flow Next? (by Randy Dockendorf, Yankton Daily Press & Dakotan)
SDSU Ecologist: Missouri Needs Flow Of Sediment, Not Just Water (South Dakota State University)
Halliburton/KBR Wins Largest Army Corps Contract Ever…without Competition
On October 25, 2004, The New York Times published an article regarding a contract given to Halliburton from the USACE. Halliburton is a Houston-based corporation that was headed by Dick Cheney before he became U.S. vice president. The contract had been under great controversy due to the special treatment Halliburton’s subsidiary Kellogg, Brown, and Root (KBR) received from the USACE in terms of their work in Iraq, Kuwait, and the Balkans. Bunnatine “Bunny” H. Greenhouse, who was then the top contracting official of the USACE, called for a high-level investigation pertaining to the Corps’ unlawful treatment towards Halliburton’s KBR subsidiary.
A contract was awarded to KBR in 2003 for Iraqi oil repairs without any competitive bidding. This contract is one of the largest service contracts the Corps has ever awarded. It was worth up to $7 billion over a five-year period and was called into question because Halliburton representatives attended a meeting at the Pentagon in February 2003, where the details of the Restore Iraqi Oil (RIO) contract were being discussed. The company ultimately was paid $2.5 billion under the RIO.
Greenhouse claimed that military auditors caught KBR overcharging the Pentagon by $61 million for fuel deliveries into Iraq. However, the USACE issued an illegal waiver that excused KBR from explaining why their oil transport prices were higher than competitor prices, thereby relieving them of the contract requirement of providing cost and pricing data. USACE officials issued the waiver without getting Greenhouse’s approval.
In February 2004, the Pentagon’s Inspector General launched a criminal investigation into whether KBR overcharged the government while it was importing fuel from Kuwait to Iraq. Auditors eventually found $1 billion in overcharges by parent company Halliburton. Testifying at a congressional hearing, Greenhouse said that, “every aspect of the RIO contract remained under the control of the Office of the Secretary of Defense. This troubled me and was wrong.” She described the KBR contract controversy as “the most blatant and improper contract abuse I have witnessed during the course of my professional career.”
Greenhouse subsequently filed a lawsuit, claiming that the U.S. Army retaliated against her, canceling her security clearance and demoting her at the USACE. In July 2011, the U.S. Government agreed to pay her $970,000 as a settlement.
Greenhouse’s complaints led to a criminal investigation of KBR headed by the FBI that expanded into other areas of alleged wrongdoing by Halliburton. In 2007, Halliburton severed its ties to KBR.
Top Army Official Calls for a Halliburton Inquiry (by Erik Eckholm, New York Times)
F.B.I. Investigating Contracts With Halliburton (by Erik Eckholm, New York Times)
Hurricane Katrina: Levee Work Incomplete after 40 Years
In 1965, after Hurricane Betsy flooded large segments of New Orleans, the USACE was assigned sole responsibility for levee design and construction. However, 40 years later, in August 2005, when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, the levees were only 60–90% completed. The Corps flood protection failed greatly and the levees broke in more than 50 different places. The American Society of Engineers (ASCE) stated that two thirds of the deaths could have been avoided if the levee project had been complete and sufficient. On March 1, 2007, the city of New Orleans filed a $77 billion damage claim against the USACE. In 2008, a U.S. District Court judge ruled that the Corps had been negligent and was responsible for the failures of the levee system and the subsequent flooding; however, he dismissed the lawsuit because the Flood Control Act of 1928 protects the federal government from being held financially responsible in cases pertaining to flood control projects.
Dr. Ray Seed, co-chair of the U.C. Berkeley levee investigation, submitted an ethics complaint on October 30, 2007, stating that the Corps of Engineers, in an attempt to hide their mistakes in the flooding of New Orleans, has tried to prevent independent research teams, like his, from gathering crucial information from the levee investigation site. Seed also stated that the Corps’ cover-up was aided by the ASCE, which is the same group that the Corps chose to peer review the levee investigation sponsored by the Corps.
Privatize the Bulk of the Corps’ Civilian Activities
While the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) has built some impressive infrastructure, its work has not always been economically beneficial, which is why some of its civilian activities should be privatized, according to the Cato Institute.
Chris Edwards, the institute’s director of tax policy, has argued the Army Corps’ projects have “often subsidized private interests at the expense of federal taxpayers.” Edwards also contends the Corps has a history of distorting its cost-benefit analyses in order to justify its work.
For these reasons, Edwards says, the federal government should turn over the Corps’ flood control, harbor construction, beach replenishment and the management of recreational areas to state and local governments.
In addition, activities such as seaport dredging and hydropower generation should be contracted out to the private sector, he argues.
Cutting the Army Corps of Engineers (by Chris Edwards, Townhall)
Privatize the Army Corps of Engineers (by Chris Edwards, Cato Institute)
Vitter Reforms and 2011 Block Grant Program for Harbors
With the USACE falling behind on projects across the country, lawmakers in Congress introduced multiple plans in 2011 and 2012 to reform the agency and get it caught up on construction and dredging work.
Sen. David Vitter (R-Louisiana) introduced legislation in 2012 that would have created a pilot program designed to reduce red tape and expedite backlogged projects by delegating more project management responsibility to state and local governments.
At the time the bill was introduced, some $60 billion in Corps projects were waiting to be completed (that is more than 10 times the Corps’ whole budget for a year).
Vitter’s legislation followed a 2011 proposal by Sen. Jim DeMint (R-South Carolina) intended to eliminate earmarks by “focusing on national priorities, and giving states flexibility to meet critical needs,” according to a prepared statement from the senator.
The plan included three major reforms. One would have eliminated the Corps’ backlog of projects by increasing transparency and establishing a Water Resources Commission to prioritize water resource projects performed by the Corps.
The bill also would have given the Corps the power to conduct studies and undertake construction projects based on national priority instead of tackling politically directed earmarks first.
And it would have reformed the administration of the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund to allow states to choose to opt-in to a block grant program that would have let them use the Harbor Maintenance taxes collected at their ports as they see fit.
S. 573 (112th): Corps of Engineers Reform Act of 2011 (Govtrack.us)
DeMint Introduces Army Corps of Engineers Reform Bill (Senator Jim DeMint)
Flood Management Reforms for Missouri
Following terrible flooding along the Missouri River in 2011, lawmakers from several states met to discuss possible reforms to the USACE’s flood management plan.
The Army Corps was widely criticized for causing the Missouri River flooding by holding back water in reservoirs too long during the winter to benefit recreational fishing interests.
One of the lawmakers involved in the discussions was Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill (D), who told the Missouri News Horizon: “Always at the top of the list of their job is, in fact, flood control. It’s not navigation, it’s not irrigation, it’s not wildlife habitation, it’s, in fact, flood control. And we’ve got to make sure that becomes crystal clear after the difficulties everyone has faced this year.”
Army Corps reforms came up again for discussion two years later, this time led by Louisiana politicians in Washington. As part of discussions over a new water resources development bill, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D) wanted to see operational changes implemented by the Army Corps so that its billion-dollar backlog of projects could be reduced in size.
Lawmakers To Discuss Flood Management Reforms (by Tim Sampson, Missouri News Horizon)
Congress To Debate Corps Reforms (by Jeremy Alford, Houma Today)
Upset over the USACE’s efforts in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina, two U.S. senators sponsored bipartisan in 2006 legislation to reform the embattled agency.
Senators Russ Feingold (D-Wisconsin) and John McCain (R-Arizona) put forth an amendment to the Water Resources Development Act of 2007. Their plan included two major reforms, among others: modernizing the Corps’ Planning Principles and Guidelines and implementing an independent program review commission to evaluate projects costing more than $40 million for safety and environmental concerns.
The water bill was adopted in 2007. Feingold, though, opposed the final bill because of changes made during House and Senate negotiations that weakened the independent review portion.
Two years later, McCain and Feingold publicly criticized the Corps for moving too slowly in adopting any of the changes contained in the Water Resources act. As of 2009, the corps hadn’t implemented independent reviews, projects were still plagued by safety and environmental concerns, and the Corps was continuing its wasteful spending habits.
As of February 2013, the Senate was still registering complaints over reform foot-dragging in the Corps. (See Vitter Reforms entry above.)
Feingold, McCain Continue Effort to Hold Army Corps of Engineers Accountable (by John McCain, U.S. Senate)
Improving the Performance of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (by Ronald D. Utt, Heritage Foundation)
Army Corps: Senators to Air Frustrations over Water Policies (by Annie Snider, E&E Reporter)
Reform the Corps Now (Gambit)