WASHINGTON, DC--The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has published a preliminary evaluation of a massive public works project using economic models that have not been peer reviewed and consequently must be withdrawn, according to a complaint filed today with the Department of Defense by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Contrary to new Data Quality Act standards, the Corps is relying upon non-reviewed, proprietary economic models to support its plans to construct new, expanded locks throughout the Upper Mississippi River and Illinois Waterway System.
If the Pentagon upholds the PEER complaint it would be yet another blow to the scandal-plagued and oft-delayed plans for an estimated $2.5 billion in new Corps construction to attempt to increase barge traffic on the Upper Mississippi River and the Illinois Waterway. Corps economic models used to attempt to justify this project have previously been criticized by the National Academy of Sciences, President Bush's Office of Management and Budget, as well as the Army's own Inspector General.
"The Corps remains committed to its own ‘black box' economics where it puts its own numbers in a black box and expects everyone to accept the figures that magically appear out of the other end," commented PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. PEER represented Corps economist Dr. Don Sweeney, who exposed a prior attempt by the Corps to justify this project by cooking the books on its cost-benefit analysis.
The Data Quality Act (DQA) requires each federal agency to develop "administrative mechanisms" for "ensuring and maximizing the quality, objectivity and integrity of information" it disseminates to the public. Under DQA guidelines, scientific material lacking independent peer review is presumptively not objective. Moreover, economic models and other material considered highly influential are held to an even higher standard of quality review.
Despite an October 1, 2002 deadline for all federal agencies to finalize their own DQA guidelines, the Corps has taken no steps to comply with the act. Consequently, PEER submitted its complaint to the Pentagon, which now has 60 days to make its determination regarding Corps compliance.
In its latest study status update published August 7, the Corps announced a preliminary evaluation of infrastructure "improvements" prior to its plans to engage the National Academy of Sciences for peer review of its economic models, which will not be completed until mid-2004. Data Quality regulations require independent review before public release of any such information.
"Under the Data Quality Act, the Corps should not be disseminating, let alone relying on, these economic models until they have been independently reviewed and their results can be substantiated and replicated," stated Ruch. "Given its checkered history, the Corps should be bending over backwards to get the Upper Mississippi plan right instead of, once again, rushing to reach a political conclusion that does not match economic reality."