Still Not Fixing the Army Corpsby Editors
New York Times, March 19, 2007
Readers will recall that the Democrats promised to upend the status quo as soon as they won majority control. But some things, it appears, are untouchable, among them the Army Corps of Engineers. Presented with another opportunity to reform the Corps -- its weaknesses exposed by the levee failures in New Orleans and other misjudgments predating Hurricane Katrina -- Democrats on the House transportation committee took a dive.
The committee approved a huge $40 billion water resources development bill that is loaded with pork-barrel projects dear to Congress's heart but, partly for that reason, is devoid of any serious reforms to an agency that over the years has inflated the economic payoffs of its projects while underestimating their potential damage to the environment. The measure, virtually identical to last year's Republican bill, seems assured of passage.
Hopes for reform now lie with the Senate, where John McCain and Russell Feingold are still seeking, against heavy odds, to require two major and essential changes in the way the corps does business. One would require truly independent review of the design, cost and environmental consequences of all corps projects costing more than $40 million.
The second reform would require that projects be ranked by an inter-agency committee of experts in order of importance based on priorities like flood control and environmental restoration. This reform is aimed at Congress itself, since members tend to regard projects that benefit their own districts and electoral prospects as more important than any others, and are thus incapable of anything approaching dispassionate judgment,
If Senator Barbara Boxer, who leads the Environment and Public Works Committee, fails to persuade her colleagues to accept these provisions in committee, the two senators will try to attach them to the water resources bill on the Senate floor.
In addition to the usual ration of pork, the bill contains several very important provisions, including vital and long-overdue financing for the Everglades restoration project, as well as money to begin the essential task of rebuilding Louisiana's vulnerable coastal wetlands. But it would be a far better bill if the Democrats, as they promised, would put the interests of responsive government ahead of their own and finally fix the Army Corps.
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