Gibbs Statement from Hearing on President’s Budget for U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Chairman Bob Gibbs (R-OH)
I am a strong supporter of the efforts by Congress to control federal spending. But once again, I feel like this is like the old movie “Groundhog Day” for most of us on the Committee.
Many of the Army Corps of Engineers activities that we are examining today are true investments in America because they provide jobs and stimulate an economic return. For nearly two centuries, the civil works missions of the Corps have contributed to the economic vitality of the Nation and have improved our quality of life.
But, like Groundhog Day, this Administration has again mis-prioritized the projects and programs of the Army Corps of Engineers. I believe the Congress and the Administration must be supportive of programs that have a proven record of providing economic benefits.
The FY 2015 budget request by the Administration for the Corps of Engineers is approximately $4.5 billion. This request is less than what was requested in previous budgets and almost 20 percent less than what was appropriated by Congress for fiscal year 2014.
In 2011, we had some of the worst flooding on record in this country. In 2012, we were struck by several major natural disasters. And in 2015, it is likely an expanded Panama Canal will become operational.
Yet, the President has learned little from the recent experiences of coastal storms since his budget proposes investing no funding for construction of shore protection projects nationwide. In addition, he sends to Congress a budget that has an ecosystem restoration construction budget that is three times larger than its coastal navigation construction budget.
The FY 2014 budget was where we expected to find the funds to match the Administration’s rhetoric on initiatives, like the President’s Export Initiative, or the President’s We Can’t Wait Initiative. Since the funds are also absent in the FY 2015, budget, perhaps we should call it the “We’re Still Waiting Initiative.”
Instead, while the President is proposing just over $915 million out of the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund for operation and maintenance activities in FY 2015, just last year in FY 2014, it is estimated the Administration collected $1.566 billion in Harbor Maintenance Taxes, paid by businesses for the purpose of maintaining America’s ports. This will not keep up with a growing demand on our ports to accommodate more and larger ships, and will leave the Trust Fund with almost $10 billion in IOU’s to the nation’s ports at the end of the next fiscal year.
This Administration is not the first to shortchange America’s water transportation system, but I find it irresponsible for any Administration, or for Congress itself, to not fully spend the tax dollars collected for their intended purpose.
I know we need to find savings, but savings could be found by slowing down work on some environmental restoration projects until the economy turns around.
Instead, the President’s budget prioritizes these activities above coastal navigation. The largest coastal navigation expenditure in the Construction General account is less than $35 million (Delaware River). By comparison, the three largest ecosystem project expenditures in the Construction General account are one project for almost $70 million (Columbia River), one project for $65.5 million (Everglades), and one project for almost $50 million (Missouri River).
And two of those multi-million dollar ecosystem restoration activities are at the behest of other federal agencies like the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, and the National Marine Fisheries Service.
I admire the good work the Corps of Engineers does related to environmental restoration, but when our cities and towns are suffering from extraordinary flooding and our farms and our factories are struggling to compete in the global marketplace, I believe we need to focus on missions that protect people and benefit the economy.
While we in Congress understand the Corps of Engineers has to comply with the Endangered Species Act and other laws, every year the agency has to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on so-called environmental compliance activities at the whim of other federal agencies with no end in sight. I think the Corps of Engineers needs to know when to say “enough is enough.”
Budgets are about priorities. A priority of any administration should be to put the United States at a competitive advantage in world markets.
According to this budget, the coastal navigation system the nation has today, which is the same coastal navigation system we had when this President took office, will be enough to keep the United States competitive when the Panama Canal expansion is complete.
Many of us in Congress disagree. While the President’s “Export Initiative” and the “We Can’t Wait Initiative” made some promises to the public, unfortunately, many of us in Congress believe the President’s budget does not deliver on these Initiatives. Like Groundhog Day, once again, the President over-promises and under-delivers.
Lastly, the President’s proposed budget for the Corps of Engineers strangles the planning budget for new projects. The budget proposes a $45 million cut for studying new projects that are requested by local non-federal project sponsors.
The planning budget provides a tremendous value to the nation by tailoring solutions to local needs and is a direct link to the Army’s planning for war fighting and force protection. By eviscerating the planning budget, the President’s budget creates uncertainty for both the Army’s civil works and military missions.
On top of this budget malpractice, the President last week released a proposed rule that will dramatically extend the reach of the federal government when it comes to regulating ponds, ditches, and other wet areas. This will restrict the rights of landowners, increase compliance costs for those trying to create jobs in this country, stifle investment in those same businesses, and create an imbalance in the state and federal roles in carrying out the goals of the Clean Water Act.
I am extremely concerned that this Administration is once again trying to do an end-run around Congress to expand federal power under the Clean Water Act.
Click here for additional information from today’s hearing, including testimony, video, and background information.
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