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Daily Comet: EDITORIAL: A timely, necessary discussion

February 14, 2013

As the East Coast continues its recovery from Hurricane Sandy, the debate over the future of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is both timely and necessary.

Both U.S. Sens. Mary Landrieu, D-New Orleans, and David Vitter, R-Metairie, have spoken up and urged Congress to reform the way the corps does its business and how it receives money from the federal government.

The agency now is hamstrung by two primary deficiencies.

First, there is a lack of adequate federal money allocated to corps construction projects.

As Landrieu pointed out earlier this week, the corps' construction budget of $1.7 billion this year "could easily be spent in Louisiana alone."

That is not an exaggeration.

Louisiana has seen firsthand the dire difficulties that plague projects competing for corps money.

Second, the agency's mission is impeded by a maze of bureaucracy that keeps it from advancing even on the projects it can afford to undertake.

Again, Louisiana has had a front-row seat to the nightmare that is corps bureaucracy. We have seen the Morganza-to-the-Gulf hurricane-protection project go from study to approval to study for two decades with no measurable movement toward federal funding or construction.

"The corps processes are broken," Landrieu said. "The corps spends millions of dollars on project studies that either do not result in construction due to lack of funds or are outdated almost immediately upon completion due to an inefficient and slow process."

The ongoing conversation is being conducted as Congress considers a new Water Resources Development Act. The last time the law was passed was in 2007, and the debate over the corps is just as timely and necessary now as it ever was.

Vitter has proposed a host of reforms including requirements that the corps speed up its processes and that Congress impose oversight of the corps' policies.

Those would be welcome improvements to the current environment in which the federal agency operates.

While the corps is in charge of overseeing or approving vital public projects, its processes are agonizingly slow and all too often produce only frustration and duplication of work rather than real progress or safety improvements.

Clearly the way the corps is operating does not work well for the people who are depending on the projects to protect our homes and businesses. And Landrieu and Vitter are in a unique position to offer insight and input that can help the process.

Let's just hope their colleagues in Congress are listening.

 

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