NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

How The Corps Of Engineers Manipulated The Data

February 14, 2000

Senior officials of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers manufactured a rationale for building $1 billion worth of locks on the Mississippi and Illinois rivers, after an earlier study revealed that the projects were not cost effective. So alleges an affidavit filed by the leader of the project's economic team.

Critics say the actions were all part of a plan to enlarge even further the $12 billion Pentagon behemoth which employs some 37,000 people.

The machinations started when a group of conglomerates -- including ConAgra, Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland -- joined barge interests to persuade Congress to order a study of navigation improvements in the Upper Mississippi basin.

  • When the economic team for the $50 million five-year study concluded that the costs of any major project would far outweigh the benefits, the leader of the team was removed and it was warned that if the economics did not "capture the need for navigation improvements, then we have to find some other way to do it."
  • Apparently a way was found, because a later memo stated that those involved in the subsequent study "have agreed to get creative."
  • "We have been encouraged to have our study managers not take 'no' for an answer," the memo also stated.
  • But Donald C. Sweeney II, the highly-regarded economist who led the original team, says that for the next 50 years most barge congestion on the upper Mississippi can be relieved by building a few simple mooring facilities -- and that there is no need for major construction.

Sweeney has filed a whistleblower complaint with the federal Office of Special Counsel -- with data supported by several Corps witnesses, e-mails and other internal documents. He charges that senior officials illegally manipulated the study's data.

Sweeney was recently reprimanded for insubordination.

Source: Michael Grunwald, "How Corps Turned Doubt into a Lock," Washington Post, February 13, 2000.


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