EPW Hearing Statement: Hearing on the Nomination of R.D. James to be Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works

WASHINGTON – Today, the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held the hearing, “Hearing on the Nomination of R.D. James to be Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works.” Below is the opening statement of Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-Del.), as submitted for the record:

“Mr. Chairman, before we begin, I just want to take a moment to thank you personally for holding this nomination hearing for Mr. R.D. James to be the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works. As you know, this is a critical leadership position at the Corps of Engineers. As we have seen in the recent months with Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, the Corps’ role in protecting and rebuilding critical infrastructure in disaster- affected communities is one that cannot be understated.  

“Thank you, Mr. James, for joining us today, and for your willingness to serve.  I also want to extend my heartfelt appreciation to your wife Jennye for sharing you with us. The families of our nominees are often the unsung heroes of public service, and I would also like to recognize their sacrifices and contributions to our country.

“If confirmed, Mr. James, you will be overseeing the Army’s Civil Works Program. Through this important program, the Corps is responsible for responding to and reducing the likelihood of flood damage. The Civil Works Program also includes the construction, operation and maintenance of our nation’s ports and inland waterways, which are the gateway to both domestic and international commerce. It also includes shoreline and coastal protections for the areas of this country dramatically affected by large bodies of water, such as my home state of Delaware. If confirmed, you will also oversee the Corps of Engineers’ activities for environmental regulation and permitting.

“Mr. James, the responsibilities of the position to which you have been nominated are daunting. If confirmed, you will be leading efforts that dramatically affect every part of this country. As such, we on this Committee must take your nomination very seriously. In your role as a member of the Mississippi River Commission for the last 36 years, you have had a direct impact on a number of successful initiatives for that region. The geographic scope that the Commission manages, however, is a relatively narrow one. When I met with you earlier this week, you committed to coming with me to visit Delaware to learn about the needs of a geographic region much different from that of the Mississippi River. As you know, 80 percent of the Country’s population lives within 150 miles of a coastline. In fact, as of the 2010 census, 39 percent of the nation’s population, some 123 million people, live in a county that directly borders a shoreline.

“This country, much like this Committee, has a very diverse and broad geographic make-up – from coastal communities such as those represented by Senators Booker and Whitehouse – to rural communities such as those represented by Senators Ernst and Rounds – to inland communities such as those represented by Senators Barrasso and Duckworth. All of these regions have various water interests managed by the Corps of Engineers. In your new role, should you be confirmed, you will have to balance a wide range of competing interests. It is extremely important that you visit these different types of communities to garner a broader understanding of the challenges each faces.  

“As you know, the President has said that America’s aging infrastructure should be modernized and rebuilt. Democratic Senators released a blueprint to rebuild our infrastructure earlier this year. Senators on both sides of the aisle are supportive of investing in infrastructure, and such an investment should include funding that would allow the Corps to address our country’s water infrastructure needs.

“While I’m interested in learning how the Corps can be more efficient with the appropriated funds it receives to get the most out of every taxpayer dollar, I also believe that the Corps has been considerably underfunded for a number of years. Water infrastructure investment is a shared responsibility with state and local governments, and I want to make sure these jurisdictions get the help they need. I also want to learn more about how we can make sure that we prioritize the most critical investments that need to be made in our nation’s aging infrastructure.

“With that said, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to solving this problem. Should you be confirmed, you will be a central figure for making sure these bipartisan concerns are addressed. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on these important matters. Again, Mr. Chairman, thank you for holding this important hearing today and I look forward to learning more about this nominee.