Washington, DC - In a series of Congressional committee appearances last week, top officials of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers signaled their opposition to President Bush's proposed FY 2003 budget for their agency. The Corps is now developing a wish list of legislative augmentations, in defiance of Presidential calls for fiscal discipline, to add at least a billion dollars in new civil works projects, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
Last month, President Bush proposed a 7 percent cut, totaling $460 million, in the Corps civil works program for dredging harbors, building locks and recovering beaches. In FY 2002, Bush proposed $600 million in cuts for the Corps; Congress restored all but $200 million. This negative growth curve runs counter to an internal "Grow the Corps Initiative" promoted by senior management.
Despite pledges of support in written congressional testimony, Corps officials reversed course in unscripted oral remarks and answers to questions. For example, Mike Parker, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works, submitted written testimony that concludes, "I believe that the President's FY 2003 budget for the Army Civil Works program is a solid one." Yet, Lt. General Robert Flowers, Corps Chief of Engineers, seated next to Parker, repeatedly testified that the President's budget "doesn't make sense."
In remarks before the Senate Budget Committee and House appropriations and transportation subcommittees, Parker noted that he submitted a $6.4 billion budget request to the President's Office of Management & Budget which approved only $4.1 billion, an amount Parker testified was at least one billion dollars too low. Parker even encouraged supportive members of Congress to identify the OMB analysts responsible for the cuts and eliminate funding for their positions.
The close ties that the Corps enjoys with members of Congress who seek to promote big construction projects in their home districts have stymied executive branch control for years. Perhaps, the height of tensions came in the last two years of the Clinton Administration when then Army Secretary Louis Caldera was prevented by the Senate from re-asserting Pentagon control over Corps projects and communications with Congress.
"The Corps has become a fourth branch of government dedicated to furthering its own institutional prosperity," commented PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. PEER has represented Corps employees who documented agency violations in an attempt to justify large-scale construction projects. "In the military, insubordination is a serious of offense, but with Corps management insubordination is the hallmark of its congressional relations."