Nicole T. Carter Specialist in Natural Resources Policy
Charles V. Stern Analyst in Natural Resources Policy
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers attracts congressional attention because its civil works projects can provide economic benefits, locally and regionally, in addition to their water resource development purposes. The primary missions of the Corps are creating and maintaining navigable channels, reducing flood and storm damage, and restoring aquatic ecosystems. Congress directs the agency through authorizations, appropriations, and oversight of studies, construction projects, and other activities. This report gives an overview of Corps congressional authorization and appropriations processes. It also explains the Corps project development process, as well as other agency activities under general authorities (e.g., repair of damaged levees).
Authorization of Water Resources Activities. Congress generally authorizes Corps activities and provides policy direction in Water Resources Development Acts (WRDAs). Congress also authorizes some studies through resolutions passed by an authorizing committee. Pressure to authorize new projects, increase authorized funding levels, and modify existing projects promotes fairly regular WRDA consideration. Beginning in 1986, a biennial WRDA consideration was loosely followed; enactment has been less regular. The last WRDA was enacted in November 2007 (P.L. 110-114). Both the House and Senate authorizing committees have initiated assembly of the next WRDA bill for the 111th Congress.
Annual Agency Appropriations. Federal funding is provided for most Corps civil works activities through annual Energy and Water Development appropriations acts. Some appropriations acts also may include Corps authorizations. In part because of competition for limited funding and because Corps authorizations significantly outpace appropriations, many authorized activities do not receive appropriations. There is currently a backlog of more than 1,000 authorized studies and construction projects. In recent years, few new studies and new construction activities have been included in either the President's budget request or enacted appropriations legislation.
Standard Project Development Process. The standard process for a Corps project requires two separate congressional authorizations—one for investigation and one for project construction—as well as appropriations. The investigation phase starts with Congress authorizing a study; if it is funded, the Corps then conducts an initial reconnaissance study followed by a more detailed feasibility study. Congressional authorization for construction is based on the feasibility study. For most activities, the Corps also requires a nonfederal sponsor to share some portion of study and construction costs. These cost-sharing requirements vary by the type of project. For many types of projects, such as flood control projects (e.g., levees), the nonfederal sponsors are responsible for regular operation and maintenance expenses after construction.
Other Corps Activities and Authorities. Although the project development process just described is standard, there are exceptions. Congress has granted the Corps some general authorities to undertake small projects, technical assistance, and emergency actions such as floodfighting and repair of damaged levees. Additionally, the Corps conducts emergency response actions through mission assignments directed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Corps emergency response actions are funded primarily through supplemental appropriations. Congress also has specifically authorized Corps participation in numerous environmental infrastructure projects (e.g., municipal water and wastewater treatment systems).
Date of Report: May 26, 2010
Number of Pages: 18 Order Number: R41243 Price: $29.95
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