One Year Anniversary after Enactment: Implementation of the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014
2167 Rayburn House Office Building
This is a hearing of the Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment.
Summary of Subject Matter
Official Hearing Transcript
Hearing on “One Year Anniversary After Enactment: Implementation of the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014”
June 10, 2015
(Remarks as Prepared)
Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure
This hearing will be valuable to our work in crafting the next Water Resources Development Act. It’s critical to get WRDA back on two-year cycles to ensure that Congress has a fundamental role in the development of Corps of Engineers projects, and in the oversight of the agency.
While we’d like to turn the page and begin the next WRDA process, the Corps still has to issue the majority of the implementation guidance from WRRDA 2014. For example, WRRDA 2014 contained many acceleration provisions, including a simple, common-sense provision that created a permanent Section 214 program. However, the Corps seems to be slow-walking implementation guidance related to permit acceleration.
Even more concerning, the Administration is purposefully misinterpreting the new project authorization process established under WRRDA. The Annual Report required under WRRDA gave the Corps the opportunity to provide Congress with a list of non-Federal project sponsor priorities that reflect the needs of the Nation. Instead, the Administration chose to provide Congress a list of their priorities, not the priorities of state and local governments. The Annual Report is intended to reflect the spectrum of activities for Congress to consider in authorizing future water resources improvements – it is not a vehicle for the Administration to promote its own priorities. I expect the Corps will address these and other concerns as Congress looks to return to the two-year cycle for WRDA bills.
I also want thank General Peabody for his service to the nation. If this were an easy job, Congress would not have given the mission to the Army.
Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment
One year ago, a strong bipartisan message was sent by Congress and the President with the enactment of the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014. Congress made a conscious effort in WRRDA 2014 to enhance America’s competiveness by strengthening investments in the Nation’s water resources infrastructure, including ramping up Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund expenditures for their intended purposes.
A priority of any Administration should be to put the United States at a competitive advantage in world markets, especially since world trade patterns are expected to be dramatically different when the Panama Canal expansion becomes operational in April 2016.
Additionally, when Congress enacted WRRDA 2014, there were several high priority provisions included in the law. Provisions related to the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund, the Inland Waterways Trust Fund, permit processing, project acceleration, project authorizations, WIFIA, public-private partnerships, and deauthorization of old and inactive projects were included in the law that was signed by the President in June 2014.
While the WRRDA law is transformative, and in some places complicated, we remain disappointed at the pace and the prioritization at which the Corps of Engineers is carrying out the drafting of the implementation guidance. Today at the one-year anniversary of the enactment of WRRDA 2014, we would hope—and expect—the Corps would put more of a priority in writing the implementation guidance. After all, WRRDA is the law of the land—it is not a suggestion for the Administration to casually disregard.
Much of the implementation guidance that has been issued tracks closely with the intent of Congress, with a few exceptions. However, these guidance documents pertain to some of the less complex provisions contained in WRRDA 2014.
The Corps appears to have done an excellent job in following Congressional intent associated with the study acceleration provisions, specifically with the issuance of the “3 by 3 by 3” guidance. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the implementation of the new authorization provision carried out pursuant to Section 7001 of WRRDA 2014. The Annual Report is intended to reflect a broad spectrum of activities for Congress, not the Administration, to consider in authorizing future water resources projects. The job of the Corps under Section 7001 is primarily an administrative one. That is, the Corps is to collect proposals, screen them against the five criteria in the law, and simply report the findings. The contents of the first Annual Report did not meet this Committee’s expectations, not only in terms of the number of proposals submitted by non-federal project sponsors, but also how the Administration used this process as a way to promote their priorities, and not those of their customers. We look forward to fixing this process going forward.
For some of the more complex provisions, like WIFIA and contributed funds, the Corps’ customers – the non-federal stakeholders – are still waiting to benefit from these sorts of reforms provided by WRRDA 2014. Even some of the common-sense provisions, like the use of benchmarking for non-federal improvements to federal projects, permit acceleration activities through the Section 214 program, or the public-private partnership provisions, are suffering from what appears to be inattention from the Corps.
WRRDA 2014 accelerated the project delivery process, promoted fiscal responsibility, strengthened transportation networks, increased transparency, and increased Congressional oversight in prioritizing future water resources investment. WRRDA 2014 was transformative. It is complex and requires thoughtful implementation by the Corps to ensure it carries out the intent of Congress. While implementation has not met the Committee’s expectations so far, we look forward to continue working with the Corps to ensure WRRDA 2014 is carried out in a fashion that benefits the Nation.
I want to pass a note of thanks to General Peabody. While General Peabody is not an official witness at today’s hearing, he joins us to answer some of our more complex questions. General Peabody is also retiring from the United States Army in the coming weeks. He is a native of my home state of Ohio and I want to thank him for his 35 years of military service.