The meeting of the Inland Waterways Users Board April 13 in Pittsburgh, Pa., highlighted once again the challenges the Corps of Engineers faces in an environment of continuing inflation, labor shortages and cost overruns—coming at a time when, as IWUB members repeatedly noted, they believed certain projects were “funded to completion.”
A high note was a presentation on the tremendous work the Corps and industry did in coordinating the dredging of the Mississippi River during the recent low water. Impacts to navigation were much fewer than during the similar low water of 2012, indicating the lessons are being learned and applied in managing these events.
The funding flood is creating its own issues. One Corps presenter noted that five years ago, the Corps was managing $36 billion in total projects with 37,000 personnel. Today, the Corps is managing $91 billion in projects with 38,000 people—2-1/2 times the workload, with only 1,000 more employees.
In response to the members’ requests for more transparency about how the money for the IWTF is collected, reported and accounted for, officials presented various charts and graphs that gave details of how it is transferred from the Internal Revenue Service, accounted for by various federal agencies and finally transferred to the Corps.
These peeks inside the Rube Goldberg labyrinth that moves money around the federal bureaucracy were greeted with only a few desultory questions and didn’t seem to offer satisfactory answers to the questions members were asking. The board’s priority, said Damon Judd, president and CEO of Marquette Transportation and an IWUB member, is “to spend the money we put into the IWTF for its intended purpose.” In a statement for the public record, he recorded IWUB members’ frustrations with “mixed signals and confusion” over exactly what the Corps’ capabilities are.
All agree, however, that continued close cooperation between the IWUB and the Corps is more necessary than ever.