February 24, 2016

Rep. Napolitano's Opening Statement: “A Review of United States Army Corps of Engineers Reports to Congress on Future Water Resources Development and Chief’s Reports"

Opening Statement
The Honorable Grace F. Napolitano, Ranking Member
Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment
Hearing on “A Review of United States Army Corps of Engineers Reports to Congress on Future Water Resources Development and Chief’s Reports”
February 24, 2016


I would welcome our two witnesses to this hearing – the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works, the Honorable Jo-Ellen Darcy, and the Chief of Engineers, Lieutenant General Bostick.  


They are dedicated public servants and good stewards in addressing the water resources challenges facing this nation, and, I want to thank them, personally, for their efforts in the fiscal year 2015 work plan to address many of the needs I raised related to issues affecting my constituents.


Earlier this month, the Subcommittee convened a round-table of stakeholders and interest groups that benefit from a robust and active civil works program to discuss priorities for a new water resources bill.


Without question, stakeholders highlighted the importance of a robust civil works program for the protection of our communities, our infrastructure, and our public health and safety.  But, equally important, was a workable process for the Corps to partner with local communities to address local water resource challenges.


For decades, that process was fairly straightforward – local project sponsors would work with the Corps and with the Congress on proposals to address local water resources needs – and, for the majority of projects, seemed to work well. 


However, for one reason or another, that process was changed. 


In the 2014 Water Resources bill, Congress established a new process – the 7001 Annual Report to Congress process – for the development of local Corps projects and studies. 


Today is our first genuine opportunity to examine the new process.


On this new process, I would note a few observations.


First, while it seems that the Administration improved its process for including projects in the 2016 Annual Report – the fact is that many project and study requests were “screened out” by Administration priority-calls rather than using the exact criteria listed in section 7001 of WRDA 2014. 


For as long as this process remains, this will be a point of disagreement between the Congress and the Administration – how much discretion does the Administration have to weed out project and study requests based on Administration priorities.  Yet, this is a consequence of our self-imposed moratorium on Congressional priorities for authorizing local water resource projects.


Second, I believe there is still a significant amount of ignorance or confusion on this new process among local communities.


I predict that there will be a number of communities with traditional water resources challenges simply do not know of, or understand, this new process, and may find themselves on the outside, looking-in as Congress considers a new water resources bill for 2016. 


Their needs are probably no less deserving than many of the projects and studies included in the Annual Reports – however, because these communities are not included in the Annual Report, or have been included in the Appendix, is our response going to be “you don’t have the right paperwork, so you simply have to wait until the next water resources bill”? 


I am most concerned about some of our lower-income communities that may not have the sophistication or financial means of other, larger communities. 


We should not utilize a process that is so complicated that communities need to hire federal lobbyists to get a project approved.  That is our job – to fairly and transparently represent the needs of our local constituents!


Today, the Subcommittee will discuss an array of pending Chief’s Reports and potential projects and studies that did clear the Annual Report process.  These will form the basis of a new water resources bill for later this year. 


However, we also need to address that universe of well-intentioned local needs that may not be covered by the annual report process.  We need to provide some reasonable direction to these communities and their elected officials on how they can also partner with the Corps on addressing their needs.