Tuesday, April 2, 2013

CRS Report Released: Army Corps of Engineers Water Resource Projects: Authorization and Appropriations

The Congressional Research Service (CRS), the public policy research arm of Congress, recently issued the report Army Corps of Engineers Water Resource Projects: Authorization and Appropriations (Mar. 22, 2013). The 21-page report authored by Nicole T. Carter and Charles V. Stern discusses the following:


The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers undertakes activities to maintain navigable channels, reduce flood and storm damage, and restore aquatic ecosystems. Congress directs the Corps through authorizations, appropriations, and oversight of its studies, construction projects, and other activities. This report summarizes congressional authorization and appropriations processes for the Corps. It also discusses agency activities under general authorities.

Authorization of Water Resources Activities. Congress generally authorizes Corps activities and provides policy direction in Water Resources Development Acts (WRDAs). The most recent WRDA was enacted in 2007 (P.L. 110-114). Pressure to authorize new projects and modify existing projects promotes fairly regular WRDA consideration. WRDAs historically have been omnibus bills including many provisions for site-specific activities; how to construct a WRDA bill that complies with House rules related to a moratorium on Member-requested earmarks complicated WRDA consideration in the 112th Congress. The 113th Congress began consideration of a WRDA with S. 601 in the Senate in March 2013. S. 601 would authorize Corps activities and modifications of existing authorizations that meet certain criteria; the bill includes numerous other provisions as it attempts to address issues with the duration and cost of Corps projects. The bill also would establish new procedures for using Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund monies, in an effort to expand spending above current levels.

Agency Appropriations. Federal funding for most Corps civil works activities is provided in annual Energy and Water Development appropriations acts or supplemental appropriations acts. At times these acts also have included Corps authorizations. In part because of competition for funds and because Corps authorizations outpace appropriations, many authorized activities have not received appropriations. There is a backlog of more than 1,000 authorized studies and construction projects. In recent years, few new studies and new construction activities have been in either the President’s budget request or enacted appropriations.

Standard Project Development. The standard process for a Corps project requires two separate congressional authorizations—one for investigation and one for construction—as well as appropriations. The investigation phase starts with Congress authorizing a study; if it is funded, the Corps conducts an initial reconnaissance study followed by a more detailed feasibility study. Congressional authorization for construction is based on the feasibility study. For most activities, Congress requires a nonfederal sponsor to share some portion of study and construction costs. These cost-sharing requirements vary by the type of project. For many project types (e.g., levees), nonfederal sponsors are responsible for operation and maintenance once construction is complete.

Other Corps Activities and Authorities. Although the project development process just described is standard, there are exceptions. Congress has granted the Corps some general authorities to undertake some studies, small projects, technical assistance, and emergency actions such as flood-fighting and repair of damaged levees. Additionally, the Corps conducts emergency response actions directed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

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