Pointon Retires As Users Board Designated Federal Officer

The 102nd meeting of the Inland Waterways Users Board (IWUB) April 11 in Springfield, Va., (WJ, April 29) served as a goodbye of sorts, with Mark Pointon, the board’s outgoing designated federal officer (DFO), set to retire from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

According to an email Pointon sent to current and former board members prior to the meeting, Pointon’s involvement with the Users Board, either as the DFO/executive secretary or the executive assistant for the board, spans more than three decades. The April 11 meeting was his 90th. Pointon’s total time with the Corps goes back 42 years.

“I started working for the Corps very soon after graduating from college,” Pointon said. “I ended up in the old Dredging Division, which became the Navigation Branch in Headquarters, ultimately. I have worked in the Navigation Branch and the Programs Integration Division, formerly Programs Management Division, in HQ for many years. And in [the Institute for Water Resources] for many years. Both are located in the National Capital Region, so it didn’t require any relocating on my part.”

That experience in both navigation and programs management made Pointon a subject matter expert for the Inland Waterways Trust Fund (IWTF), the repository for funds generated by the 29-cent fuel tax inland commercial operators pay. The Users Board serves as the maritime industry federal advisory committee that makes recommendations to Congress and the Secretary of the Army for infrastructure project priorities and IWTF spending.

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“Over time, as the ‘last man standing,’ I have become, somewhat, the agency’s institutional knowledge,” Pointon said.

Paul Clouse, who most recently has served as the deputy chief of navigation at Corps Headquarters, is the new DFO.

Looking back at his last Users Board meeting before retirement, Pointon highlighted the ongoing work to update the Capital Investment Strategy (CIS) as a “major action.” The Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014 directs the Secretary of the Army “in coordination with the Users Board” to develop a new CIS at least every five years, with the CIS reflecting a 20-year strategy for inland and intracoastal capital investments. At present, the Corps plans to finalize the 2025 CIS by September, then send it to the Office of Management and Budget for review. The final report will then be sent to Congress.

Major points under consideration for the 2025 CIS include updating how the Corps categorizes projects and holding off on a project’s design work until around five years before the planned start of construction.

“Changing the categories allows better segregation for the phase of the projects, which in turn allows better comparisons of projects—apples to apples, if you will,” Pointon said. “Recent experience with the level or complexity of the detail design work shows it takes a few years to progress the designs to a degree that construction of major components can begin. The experiences with Mississippi [Lock] 25 and Montgomery Lock are good examples. Action by the board was their recommendation to ‘pause’ project designs until five years before a project would begin construction [in order] to avoid spending dollars and then having to re-examine or update designs once the project is expected to receive construction funding.”

During the Users Board’s April 11 meeting, Pointon offered an update on the IWTF thus far in fiscal year 2024, while also discussing revenue growth for the Trust Fund and work plan and president’s budget allocation trends over the past seven years.

Following the meeting, Spencer Murphy, chairman of the Inland Waterways Users Board and general counsel and vice president of risk management for Canal Barge Company, expressed his thanks to Pointon for serving the Users Board for so many years.

“Mark Pointon has been a staple of the Inland Waterways Users Board for over 30 years,” Murphy said. “We are grateful for the many years of great service provided by Mr. Pointon and hope he enjoys his much-deserved retirement. We wish him the absolute best and look forward to working with his replacement, Mr. Paul Clouse, in continuing this great partnership.”