International Dredging Review

International Dredging Review

In February 2016 the Congressional Re-search Service (CRS) issued a report on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers progress on the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA) 2014 “Army Corps of Engineers: Water Resource Authorizations Appropriations and Activities” by Nicole T. Carter and Charles V. Stern specialists in natural resource policy for CRS. The report provides an objec-tive look at Corps progress so far on WRRDA 2014 and the study and construction process as well as provides a historical perspective on evolution of the Corps’ Civil Works mission.

The report began with a summary of the work (projects and studies) since the enactment of WRRDA 2014. (For more on that see the editorial in the 2016 annual directory page 5). The report also details the process for authorizations and appropriations and how that has changed over the years.

The CRS report said the 1986 WRDA “marked the end of a stalemate between Congress and the executive brand regarding Corps authorizations. It resolved long-standing disputes related to cost sharing user fees and environmental requirements. Prior to 1986 disputes over these and other matters had largely prevented enactment of major Civil Works legislations since 1970.” The biennial reauthorization was resumed after WRDA 1986 and was loosely followed to avoid long delays between the planning and execution of projects and so Congress could review proposed projects on a regular basis.

The CRS report also highlighted that the rate of Corps authorizations exceeds the rate of the agency’s annual appropriations. See the graph on this page. The report also said this scenario results in competition for funding among authorized projects. 

“To concentrate limited resources and move ongoing projects toward completion budget requests by the George W. Bush and Obama Ad-ministrations have focused funding on projects within the Corps’ primary mission of flood and storm damage reduction navigation and aquatic ecosystem restoration” the report said.



a. These percentages reflect that the nonfederal sponsors pay 10% 25% or 50% during construction and an additional 10% over a period not to exceed 30 years.

b. Appropriations from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund which is funded by collections on commercial cargo imports at federally maintained ports are used for 100% of these costs.

c. Appropriations from the Inland Waterway Trust Fund which is funded by a fuel tax on vessels engaged in commercial transport on designated waterways are used for 50% of these costs.

d. Capital costs initially are federally funded and are repaid by fees collected from power customers.

In general the Corps gets money for projects through appropriations laws the report said but since fiscal year 2010 the projects identified for appropriations have been limited largely to the projects included in the President’s budget request and Congress has not added new line items (earmarks) to the budget. Generally Congress has adhered to the ban on earmarks since that time.

Also the Corps’ two largest accounts – Construction and O&M – account for the majority of the agency’s funding. Where O&M funding has been trending upward the report said the Corps Construction account has been shrinking.

“This shift is consistent with recent efforts by the Administration and Congress to limit funding for new activities and instead focus on completing existing projects and efforts to address aging infrastructure issues. Enacted appropriation bills for FY2014 FY2015 and FY2016 broke with earlier bans on new construction starts and allowed the agency to initiate a specified number of Corps new start studies and projects. However numerous authorized projects have yet to be initiated” the report said.

CRS said roughly 85 percent of the Corps’ budget is for geographically specified studies or projects. In addition to those in the President’s budget for years Congress used to annually identify other projects to receive funding in the discretionary appropriations process. But the ban on earmarks during the 112 th Congress in 2010 changed all that.

Congress does however include additional funding categories for various types of Corps projects along with directions and limitations on how the funds should be used and the Corps reports back in the Annual Report on how it used that money at the project level. The additional funding in the FY2016 budget was more than $1.3 billion.

The Corps also receives supplemental appropriations which CRS said accounts for approximately half of the amount provided to the Corps through regular appropriations. From 1987 to 2014 Congress appropriated $32.2 billion in supplemental funding to the Corps. This funding goes to fight natural disasters and storm damage infrastructure such as money for Hurricane Katrina damage the 2008 Midwest flood and the 2011 Missouri and Mississippi floods. Most recently in January 2013 Congress gave the Corps $5.3 billion after Hurricane Sandy.

Of the project delivery process CRS said it “is not automatic. Appropriations are required to perform studies and undertake construction; that is congressional study and construction authorizations are necessary but alone are insufficient for the Corps to pursue a project.” For most activities the Corps also needs a non-federal sponsor to share in the costs. CRS said since WRDA 1986 non-federal sponsors have been responsible for a significant portion of project funding. 

WRRDA 2014 expanded and consolidated the authority of non-federal partners in the project process. Whereas before the Corps acted as the manger for studies or projects and non-federal sponsors only contributed to a portion of the costs under the new legislation non-federal sponsors may play a bigger role which is still being developed. (For more on the implementation guidance on public-private partnerships see the editorial in this issue.) The cost-share responsibilities for construction and O&M projects vary by project purpose. See the chart on this page for a breakdown of the federal cost-sharing responsibilities for different projects.

WRRDA 2014 also expanded the deauthorization process creating a one-time deauthorization of incomplete projects authorized prior to WRDA 2007. In October 2015 the Corps published an interim deauthorization list identifying 147 potential projects for deauthorization. WRRDA 2014 also established that any project that does not receive funding in seven years from enactment with be automatically deauthorized.

The CRS report also provided a look at the evolution of the Corps Civil Works mission. Congress passed legislation in 1824 charging military engineers with planning roads and canals to move goods and people. In 1850 the Corps performed its first planning exercise – flood control for the lower Mississippi River – at the direction of Congress. In the 1920s the Corps developed comprehensive river-basin development plans and modern era flood control developed from a number of acts through the 1930s to 1950s. By the late 1960s the construction of major projects had declined. From 1970 to 1985 Congress authorized no major water projects scaled back several theorized projects and passed laws that altered project operations and water delivery programs to protect the environment. 

The CRS report said “the 1970s marked a transformation in Corps project planning. The 1969 National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (16 U.S.C. §1531) required federal agencies to consider environmental impacts increase public participation in planning and consult with other federal agencies.”

The WRDA bills that followed increased the Corps’ environmental mission and the responsibility of local sponsors. WRDA 1986 established new cost-share formulas and reestablished the tradition of biennial consideration of a Corps authorization bill. WRDA 1990 expanded the Corps’ mission to include environmental protection and increased the Corps’ responsibility for contamination cleanup dredged mate-rial disposal and hazardous waste management. WRDA 1992 authorized the Corps to perform beneficial use projects. WRDA 1996 authorized the Corps to undertake aquatic ecosystem restoration projects. The report also noted that while the Corps has been involved with numerous environmental restoration projects in recent years WRDA 2000 approved a restoration pro-gram for the Florida Everglades that represented the agency’s first multi-year multi-billion-dollar effort of this type. These legislative changes gave the Corps an aquatic ecosystem restoration and environmental protection mission.

WRDA 2007 continued to expand the Corps’ ecosystem restoration activities including large scale efforts in coastal Louisiana and the Upper Mississippi River. 

“The Corps also retooled its long-standing flood control mission to use a flood risk management approach. This was undertaken in response to congressional direction in WRDA 2007 and disasters like Hurricanes Katrina Rita Ike and Sandy and significant floods in the Mid-west. This approach emphasizes a greater appreciation for the shared responsibilities across levels of government for managing flood risks and damages” the report said. It also noted that the regularity of congressional appropriations for natural disaster response has increased the Corps’ attention to its role in emergency response infrastructure repair and post-disaster recovery.

Most recently WRRDA 2014 expanded opportunities for non-federal participation in project delivery and financing.