March 08, 2011

Subcommittee Panel Examines Budget Requests for Army Corps of Engineers, TVA, NRCS

Washington, D.C. – The House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment today held an oversight hearing on the Administration’s budget request and priorities for fiscal year 2012 for the Army Corps of Engineers, Tennessee Valley Authority, and the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

The Subcommittee received testimony from: The Honorable Jo Ellen Darcy, Assistant Secretary of the Army - Civil Works, United States Army; Lieutenant General Robert Van Antwerp, Chief of Engineers, United States Army Corps of Engineers; Mr. John M. Thomas III, Chief Financial Officer, Tennessee Valley Authority; and Mr. Thomas Christensen, Regional Conservationist, United States Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Below is the opening statement of U.S. Representative Timothy H. Bishop (D-NY), Democratic Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment, as prepared for delivery:

Statement of
The Honorable Timothy H. Bishop, Ranking Member
Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment
Hearing on Review of the FY 2012 Budget and Priorities of the
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Tennessee Valley Authority and the Natural Resources Conservation Service
March 8, 2011

Thank you Mr. Chairman for holding this important hearing on the President’s fiscal year 2012 budget request for three agencies; the Army Corps of Engineers, the Tennessee Valley Authority and the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Each of the three agencies before us today is responsible for supporting and maintaining our national and regional economies in a variety of ways.  These agencies literally allow our ports to stay open for shipping, allow commercial navigation to continue to utilize our waterways, protect countless families and property from the threat of flooding, provide energy to small and large communities, assist our small family farmers, and restore and protect our environmental resources.

If nothing else, I hope we can all agree that the services that these agencies provide are critical to the well being of this country.

Mr. Chairman, a running theme of the new majority is that Federal agencies need to do “more with less.”  Unfortunately, this sound bite is not always grounded in reality and in reality puts many people in this country at great risk.

When it comes to constructing, operating, and maintaining the critical navigation, flood control, power supply, and water supply programs that our nation relies upon, the bottom line is that with reduced funding, Federal agencies will be forced to do LESS with LESS.

As we look at the proposed FY 2012 budget of the Corps of Engineers, they are being forced to make tough choices and prioritize between priority tasks, tasks that may mean the difference between keeping our economy moving forward and falling backwards again.

For example, as noted in the Corps FY 2012 budget, the reality for operation and maintenance projects is that they are only being allocated 75 percent of what is necessary for day-to-day activities.

Collectively for the hundreds of COE projects around the country, reductions in budget will result in a growing deficiency in maintenance that will continue to expand until it becomes an emergency or fails at a critical moment.  The risk of failure increases each and every day and ultimately the breaking point will be reached.

As we conduct this ongoing budget debate, let us be clear that at least for the agencies here today, less funding means that fewer projects are constructed, fewer jobs will be maintained and created, more critical maintenance is deferred to another day, and more American families are placed in harm’s way due to the risk of flooding and infrastructure failure.  Cutting back on funding these agencies may seem the easiest way to address budget concerns, but leave no doubt; we are placing the American public increasingly at risk.

Mr. Chairman, in my view, that is antithetical to why we are elected to Congress.

Our job is to be the good stewards and leaders of the nation and to make the policy and funding choices that gets our country back on the path of prosperity, for today and for the future.

In my view, reckless cuts to infrastructure investment programs, such as the civil works mission of the Corps of Engineers simply passes the buck on our responsibilities to maintain and provide a workable water infrastructure to future generations.

We have all seen the statistics that much of our nation’s water infrastructure is inadequate or failing.  Pick up any newspaper and you will find a reference to flooding, failing levees, or loss of land due to erosion.  The statistics are staggering and yet we continue to put off until tomorrow addressing the needs of the nation.  With most of our water infrastructure in this nation at 50 years and older, we cannot afford to keep kicking this can down the road.

I am very concerned that we are setting up a potential failure of infrastructure through incomplete maintenance and delay in critical oversight and safety responsibilities.  If this is the path that the new Majority wants to take then let’s be honest with the American people and tell them about the real risks they are facing.

I contend that we should be asking all three of the agencies in front of us today what the reduced funds will mean in real terms to the safety and well being of our citizens.  We need to know who is going to be at risk and to what level.  We need to know what projects are going to have to be cut or delayed as a result of the short-term continuing resolution.

Mr. Chairman, let’s stop trying to convince the nation, that for agencies like the Corps of Engineers, that they can somehow adequately maintain the inventory and safety of critical projects with less funding. The real question is how badly are we adding to the problem by cutting these agencies even further?

Shouldn’t businesses that depend on the free flow of goods through our nation’s ports have a clear understanding with respect to exactly which ports will be silting up and reducing commerce and transportation?    Furthermore, I’m sure communities located below dams or behind levees have an acute interest in knowing which among them are most at risk of an impending infrastructure failure.

Mr. Chairman, we need to be honest with the American public and tell them the true story of the potential impacts and costs they are facing.  It is my hope that this hearing will address these concerns.

I yield back the balance of my time.