Nicole T. Carter Specialist in Natural Resources Policy
Charles V. Stern Analyst in Natural Resources Policy
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers undertakes activities to maintain navigable channels, reduce flood and storm damage, and restore aquatic ecosystems. Congress directs the Corps through authorizations, appropriations, and oversight of its studies, construction projects, and other activities. Historically, the agency’s authorizations and appropriations have been largely projectbased, with the projects being in specific locations. There is some uncertainty about legislation related to the Corps during the 112th Congress, in light of the House Republican Conference standing order in its conference rule and the Senate Republican Conference resolution supporting a moratorium on Member earmark requests. This report summarizes congressional authorization and appropriations processes for the Corps and explains the standard Corps project development process. It also discusses agency activities under general authorities.
Authorization of Water Resources Activities. Congress generally authorizes Corps activities and provides policy direction in Water Resources Development Acts (WRDAs). Beginning in 1986, a biennial WRDA consideration was loosely followed; enactment has been less regular. The most recent WRDA was enacted in 2007 (P.L. 110-114). Pressure to authorize new projects, increase authorized funding levels, and modify existing projects promotes fairly regular WRDA consideration. WRDAs historically have been omnibus bills including many provisions for sitespecific activities. Authorizations of many Corps activities were included under the House Republican Conference 2010 moratorium on Members requesting earmarks. Congress also authorizes some studies through resolutions passed by an authorizing committee.
Annual Agency Appropriations. Federal funding is provided for most Corps civil works activities through annual Energy and Water Development appropriations acts or supplemental appropriations acts. At times appropriations acts also have included Corps authorizations. In part because of competition for funds and because Corps authorizations outpace appropriations, many authorized activities have not received appropriations. There is 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. Most of the congressionally directed spending items added to the Corps budget have funded the continuation of ongoing Corps activities not included in the President’s budget.
Standard Project Development. The standard process for a Corps project requires two separate congressional authorizations—one for investigation and one for construction—as well as appropriations. The investigation phase starts with Congress authorizing a study; if it is funded, the Corps 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, Congress 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 project types (e.g., levees), the nonfederal sponsors are responsible for regular operation and maintenance.
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 some studies, small projects, technical assistance, and emergency actions such as flood-fighting and repair of damaged levees. Additionally, the Corps conducts emergency response actions directed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Congress also has specifically authorized Corps participation in numerous environmental infrastructure projects (e.g., municipal water and wastewater treatment systems).
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