Corps Budget Request Includes No IWTF Funds

President Joe Biden released his Fiscal Year 2024 budget March 9 that requests $7.41 billion for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Civil Works program. That number is up from FY23’s request of $6.6 billion and represents the largest president’s budget request for the Corps in recent years.

However, at the press conference announcing the budget, Chief of Engineers Gen. Scott Spellmon said that he did not submit a request to the assistant secretary of the Army–civil works for any funding from the approximately $125 million available annually in the Inland Waterways Trust Fund because the Corps “does not have any capability” to use it due to its work on ongoing projects funded via the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. He said the Corps will focus on completing current projects and looks forward to accessing the IWTF in the future.

The announcement about the IWTF disappointed waterways interests. Tracy Zea, president and CEO of Waterways Council Inc., said the announcement was “surprising, especially after President Biden has said one of his main goals for 2024 is to strengthen the supply chain.” Zea told The Waterways Journal that the omission of the IWTF drawdowns will mean projects will take longer to complete and cost more as a result of delays, impacting modernization efforts for inland waterways lock and dam infrastructure.

In its press book accompanying the budget release, The Corps says the budget’s three goals are “1) decreasing climate risk for communities and increasing ecosystem resilience to climate change based on the best available science; 2) promoting environmental justice in underserved and marginalized communities and tribal nations in line with the Justice40 Initiative and creating good paying jobs that provide the free and fair chance to join a union and collectively bargain; and 3) strengthening the supply chain.”

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“We were just mind-boggled by [Gen. Spellmon] saying there was no capability,” Zea said. He said some of Spellmon’s statements “seem to contradict each other” and that delays to important lock and dam construction and major rehab projects will increase their costs, perhaps by hundreds of millions of dollars, as inflation continues.

The president’s proposed Corps budget is the opening move in an extended negotiation in Congress. The budget request is part of an overall proposed administration budget of $6.8 trillion that is highly unlikely to pass the Republican-controlled House in anything close to its current form because of its spending and tax proposals.

Spellmon’s announcement followed another disappointment last week as the Corps, in its Work Plan for FY2023, suspended investment in the Chickamauga Lock and Dam project, a key priority for waterways interests, as it resolves a dispute with a contractor.

The administration’s proposed Corps budget includes the following:

• $2.02 billion for the Construction account, a 57 percent increase from the FY23 request of $1.28 billion.

• $4.31 billion for the Operations and Maintenance account, with $2.63 billion for all Corps mission areas except ones funded by the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund.

• $997 million for inland waterways operations and maintenance and $1.68 billion derived from the HMTF. This represents a $90,000 decrease from FY23’s request of $4.32 billion.

• A total of $232 million for the Mississippi River and Tributaries program, consisting of $226 million from the Mississippi River and Tributaries account and $5.457 million from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund account, for ongoing work in the Lower Mississippi River alluvial valley and its tributaries, with emphasis on the 1,600 miles of levees and related features on the main stem of the Lower Mississippi River and in the Atchafalaya Basin.

• Dredging funds for some river ports hard hit by last year’s low water, including $934,000 for Greenville (Miss.) Harbor; $2,435,000 for Memphis (Tenn.) Harbor; $944,000 for Vicksburg (Miss.) Harbor; and $655,000 for Osceola (Ark.) harbor.

• The Investigations account got a request for $129.8 million, an increase of 18 percent from what was provided in the FY23 president’s budget request of $106 million.

• The budget provided $86 million—the largest request in Corps history—for research and development into water resources protection.

“The challenges of today and tomorrow are not like yesterday’s. From droughts and wildfires across the western states, to the increasingly frequent disasters faced by communities across the country, many of the 21st century’s water resources challenges are complex and interconnected,” the Corps said in a press release.

Zea said WCI will continue to work with waterways advocates in Congress and is encouraged that waterways infrastructure traditionally enjoys bipartisan support.