Each year for nearly a decade the president has presented a low-balled U.S. Army Corps of Engineers budget to Congress. And each year, Congress has usually responded by giving the agency more money than the president requested.
In the last few years, however, the amount authorized by Congress has been less than what the Corps received the previous year.
This has been the budgetary quagmire for the Corps, and this year’s budget battle did little to help the embattled agency break out.
As approved by Congress in November, the compromise $27.3 billion spending bill for Energy and Water Development allocates $4.6 billion in fiscal year 2004 for the Corps of Engineers. This is $377 million more than the administration’s request but about $68 million less than the fiscal year 2003 appropriation.
The Corps has said it needs between $5 billion and $6 billion.
Reaction from the waterways industry was mixed.
“Although there has been some shift in focus towards ongoing construction projects, the amount being spent for construction still doesn’t meet the demand,” said Boyd Hollingsworth, vice president, legislative affairs, American Waterways Operators. “As a result, the cost of construction projects will be higher when they are built, and in the meantime we are not receiving the economic benefits of authorized projects. This ‘benefits foregone’ number is certainly into the hundreds of millions of dollars and far outweighs any budgetary savings from not going ahead with these projects.”
Waterways Work!, a national coalition of waterways carriers, shippers and port authorities, praised Congress for directing $271 million—the highest amount since 1993—from the Inland Waterways Trust Fund to pay for lock-and-dam improvements. But the group said the amount is still less than the $300 million a year over 10 years that it had sought. The IWTF collects diesel fuel taxes from the barge and towing industry and the U.S. provides matching funds for lock-and-dam projects. It now has a $400 million surplus, yet locks and dams continue to deteriorate.
The Corps declined to comment until officials had a chance to study the final conference report. —P. Glass