Washington, DC – .An internal Pentagon investigation has confirmed charges by a senior economist that the Army Corps of Engineers manipulated cost/benefit studies in order to vastly exaggerate the need for massive new civil works projects. The economist, Dr. Donald Sweeney, filed his disclosures concerning severe distortion of a study on the need for expansion of the entire lock and dam systems for the Upper Mississippi River and the Illinois Waterway through Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
At a press conference today, US Special Counsel Elaine Kaplan released a report of the investigation conducted by the Army Office of Inspector General (IG) at the behest of Defense Secretary William Cohen. The report found serious flaws not only with the specific study cited by Dr. Sweeney but with the entire Corps planning process. The report also concluded that the Corps had departed from its traditional “honest broker” role to become “an advocate” for building large inland navigation projects citing three factors: 1) the influence of a secret “Grow the Corps Initiative,” 2) a fiscal system based on project financing which created a conflict of interest, and 3) “a customer service” model which placed the needs of the barge industry and other system users above the public interest.
As result of the report, Secretary Cohen is recommending disciplinary action against two top Corps commanders: Major General Russell Fuhrman, Deputy Chief of Engineers, and Major General Phillip Anderson, Commander of the Mississippi Valley Division (since transferred to the South Atlantic Division). In addition, the Army IG is recommending an additional investigation as to whether Major General Hans Van Winkle, Director for Civil Works, illegally spent preliminary design and engineering funds on Mississippi lock expansions without the required justifying studies.
“I fully concur in these findings,” stated Dr. Sweeney who was allowed to review and comment on the report prior to release. “Systematic reforms, such as independent peer review of Corps studies, should be immediately instituted to make sure this sort of thing never recurs.” The National Academy of Sciences has also undertaken an analytic review of Army Corps cost/benefit studies.
“Dr. Sweeney is not alone — Corps economists interviewed by the Army IG called the system ‘corrupt,'” concluded PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch whose organization represents federal and state environmental professionals. “The question now is whether the inherent corruption of the system will triumph or whether needed reforms will be enacted.”