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Senate targets Corps of Engineers’ spending

John Dimsdale Jul 19, 2006

KAI RYSSDAL: Earmarks. We’ve talked about them before. When lawmakers add amendments to big budget bills. Usually to fund specific projects back home. Pork would be another word you could use. In the Senate today debate began on a huge water project bill. Legislation tailor made for all kinds of earmarks. Our Washington bureau chief John Dimsdale reports Senators voted to require outside reviews of the most expensive of those earmarks.

JOHN DIMSDALE: The Water Resources Development Act calls for spending more than $10 billion for hundreds of construction projects on rivers, lakes and coastlines in all 50 states. There are new locks and levees on the Mississippi and environmental cleanups in the Great Lakes and Florida’s Everglades.

But even before Hurricane Katrina washed away levees in New Orleans, there were reports of wasteful spending and design flaws by the Army Corps of Engineers. And budget watchdogs say Congress has not learned any lessons. Steve Ellis is with Taxpayers for Common Sense.

STEVE ELLIS: There’s essentially a free for all in providing all these projects across the country. It’s a big log-rolling exercise, kind of a classic Congressional action of where they just keep adding projects to get members along. Really, there is no oversight or concern about adding more to a $58 billion project backlog that the Corps currently has.

Today, Senators approved an amendment that sets up panels of experts to review all Army Corps of Engineer projects costing more than $40 million. Wisconsin Democrat Russell Feingold was one sponsor.

RUSSELL FEINGOLD: Given the Corps’ track record, we really should be requiring a review of all studies until the agency improves its record. But the $40 million trigger is a reasonable and appropriate compromise that will sweep in the largest and costliest Corps projects.

Shippers of agricultural products lobbied against Feingold’s amendment, arguing the reviews will add costly bureaucratic delays to much needed improvements to river channels. Lisa Kelly lobbies for the National Association of Corn Growers.

LISA KELLEY: Adding delays increases your modernization ultimately, increasing your transportation costs through the transportation of goods up and down the river.

The Senate’s changes to the water projects bill will send it to a reconciliation with the House-passed version as time grows short in this year’s Congressional session.

In Washington, I’m John Dimsdale for Marketplace.

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