Washington, DC — President Bush has named a new Chief of Engineers to take over the troubled U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, according to an all-employee email released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). This leadership transition comes at a key time when the Army Corps of Engineers is mired in scandal and facing rising calls for reform.
Major General Carl A. Strock has been nominated to become the 51st Chief of Engineers, with an appointment to the grade of Lieutenant General, subject to confirmation by the U.S. Senate. Gen. Strock currently serves as the Director of Civil Works and recently returned from Iraq, where he was the Deputy Director of Operations for the Coalition Provisional Authority. He would replace Lt. Gen. Robert Flowers who has been Chief of Engineers since October 2000.
While the Corps figures prominently in recent controversies and pending investigations concerning the selection and oversight of Halliburton contracts in Iraq, the Corps faces ongoing domestic problems that have festered under Gen. Flowers command, including —
· An embarrassing number of cases of the Corps “cooking the books” in economic studies in attempts to justify large-scale construction projects. Corps cost-benefit studies on projects across the nation ranging from the Columbia River to the Delaware River have been savaged by the General Accounting Office, the National Academies of Science and even the Army’s own Inspector General which found an inherent “conflict of interest” in Corps planning that it characterized as a form of “corruption;”
· Huge and continuing environmental cleanup problems stemming from an estimated 16,000 military ranges containing unexploded ordnance contaminating up to 40 million acres of land, an area larger than the State of Florida. The problems include shoddy Corps cleanups in violation of regulatory standards, poor or nonexistent records of work and the reluctance of military authorities to take responsibility for problems, leading EPA to characterize the cleanup of the old military ranges as having “the potential to be the largest environmental cleanup program ever to be implemented in the United States;” and
· A shrinking Civil Works budget. Under General Flowers, the Corps Civil Works budget will have decreased more than 11 percent if the President’s budget proposed for Fiscal Year 2005 is enacted. This decline contrasts sharply with a nearly 29 percent increase in overall Federal expenditures over the same period. The President’s Office of Management & Budget has also become a frequent critic of Corps project budget proposals.
“By any objective measure, Gen. Flowers’ tenure has been disastrous,” commented PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch whose organization represents Corps employees who have disclosed many of the problems cited above. “Rather than seizing the opportunity for change and charting a new course for the Corps, Gen. Flowers instead acted as a pom-pom waving cheerleader promoting the same discredited tactics even as they became less and less defensible.”
A key question in Gen. Strock’s confirmation will be the extent to which he embraces congressional reform proposals designed to strengthen both the analytic and environmental performance of the Corps.