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Senate Water Resources Bill Would Worsen U.S. Army Corps Woes

by Nan Swift / /

NTU urges all Senators to vote “NO” on S. 2848, the Water Resources Development Act of 2016 (WRDA). This legislation is a step backwards in the cause of reforming the troubled U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has a poor track record as a steward of taxpayer dollars. Overdue, over budget, unnecessary and often politically motivated projects have become standard operating procedure. By last count, according to a 2016 Congressional Research Service report, the Army Corps backlog extended to more than 1,000 authorized studies and construction projects. Estimates vary, but it could cost more than $62 billion to clear the slate. Of course, the utility of many of these projects has long expired, yet they remain on the books. This ongoing problem is compounded by an inherently wasteful approach to project authorization and an acute lack of Congressional oversight.

Unfortunately, for taxpayers, S. 2848 makes little attempt to remedy the Army Corps longstanding problems. Instead, it authorizes $12 billion in new projects and imposes policies that both exacerbate these challenges and ensure taxpayers will be on the hook for questionable projects for years to come.

The legislation permanently expands the scope of federal responsibility for what should properly be state and local infrastructure concerns, while at the same time ceding Congressional accountability for prioritization of federal dollars to non-federal interests. S. 2848 rolls back deauthorization reforms for inland navigation construction, maintaining authorization for aging projects. Similarly, 1986 harbor deepening cost shares are altered to the detriment of taxpayers by increasing the federal share retroactively. S. 2848 also contains a strange quasi-tax on consumer goods to fund the new “Water Infrastructure Investment Trust Fund.” The three-cent “voluntary labeling system” is not a fiscally sound way to fund water infrastructure projects and few “voluntary” federal programs remain so for long.

S. 2848 is a missed opportunity for the wholesale reform taxpayers need, such as increased privatization, user-fees, and stricter cost-benefit analysis. Senators would have had the opportunity to undertake critical reforms and reinstate policies that would have improved the fiscal outlook for the Army Corps had Senator Flake’s amendments received consideration on the Senate floor. Without these cost-saving and accountability measures, S. 2848 will saddle taxpayers with massive long term costs. Before Senators rush to authorize new projects, they should undertake the systemic changes necessary to right the agency.

Roll call votes on S. 2848 will be included in our annual Rating of Congress and a “NO” vote will be considered the pro-taxpayer position.

If you have any questions, please contact NTU Federal Affairs Manager, Nan Swift, at (703) 299-8673