WASHINGTON--Less than three weeks after the Army Corps of Engineers said it would suspend about 150 of its congressionally approved water projects in response to criticism of the agency's economic analyses, the agency has already cleared most of them to proceed.
The corps said Friday that it had reviewed 172 projects since April 30, when Maj. Gen. Robert H. Griffin, its civil works director, ordered an unprecedented agencywide "pause" in levee building, port dredging and beach restoration projects justified by outdated or questionable analyses. Griffin said 54 of those projects were still being reevaluated, but only eight "as a result of this exercise." The other 118 have been approved to continue.
Corps critics on Capitol Hill, as well as environmentalists and taxpayer advocates, immediately denounced the agency's well-publicized self-examination as a farce. The same corps officials who oversaw the original analyses were responsible for the reviews, and several Bush administration officials with corps responsibilities said they never were consulted.
None of the corps projects that have been singled out for criticism by the Office of Management and Budget, the General Accounting Office or the National Academy of Sciences were among the eight marked for further review as a result of Griffin's order.
"What was promised to be a comprehensive review appears only to be cheap window dressing," said Sen. Bob Smith (R-N.H.), who has introduced legislation to overhaul the corps but hailed the April 30 order as a "long overdue" step in the right direction.
"It is more clear than ever that it is going to take congressional action to fix the problems at the corps."
In a memo accompanying his April 30 order, Griffin said it was prompted by "serious questions in regard to the accuracy and currency
Friday he emphasized in a news release that the corps still plans rigorous reviews of 54 projects.
"We learned after calling for the pause that many of the projects were already under review," Griffin said in the statement. "We must be careful to ensure that all our projects constitute a sound investment for our nation and are environmentally sustainable."