NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


January 10, 2006

Congress has used the Army Corps of Engineers -- the federal agency that builds and maintains infrastructure for ports and waterways -- as a pork barrel spending machine for decades. Funds are earmarked for low-value projects in the districts of important members of Congress, while higher-value projects go unfunded, says the Cato Institute's Chris Edwards.

For decades, presidents have unsuccessfully tried to rein in wasteful spending by the Corps:

  • President Eisenhower vetoed a Corps spending bill in 1958 because it included numerous projects that made no economic sense.
  • In 1977, President Carter gave Congress a hit list of wasteful Corps water projects that he wanted to cut.
  • The Bush administration has tried to cut the agency's waste and to refocus its budget on completing the high-value projects in its large construction backlog.

But a better solution would be to privatize and devolve the Corps activities to lower levels of the government, says Edwards. For example:

  • Port dredging, hydroelectric dams, beach replenishment and other activities could be supported by user fees and revenues.
  • Levees, municipal water and sewer projects, recreational areas, locks, channels and other waterway infrastructure could be transferred to lower governments.

Such reforms could lead to even broader reforms to U.S. ports and waterways, says Edwards.

Source: Chris Edwards, "Privatize the Army Corps of Engineers," Cato Institute, October 2005.

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