Opening Statement of Ranking Member Carper: Improving American Economic Competitiveness through Water Resources Infrastructure

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held the hearing, “Improving American Economic Competitiveness through Water Resources Infrastructure.” Below is the opening statement of Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-Del.), as prepared for delivery:

“Before we begin, I would like to take a moment and thank the Chairman for holding this oversight hearing to kick off discussions for the development of the next Water Resources Development Act. 

“I am very proud of the bipartisan work we were able to accomplish last Congress on water infrastructure, including significant reforms to the Army Corps of Engineers and the first reauthorization of the Drinking Water State Revolving Loan Fund in 22 years. I hope this hearing will provide us with important insights as we work to develop a bill this Congress, and I look forward to hearing testimony from stakeholders today. 

“During the drafting process for the last Water Resources Development Act, also known as AWIA, along with our staffs, Chairman Barrasso and I heard repeatedly that the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) micromanages the Corps of Engineers, and that there had been a troubling lack of transparency with respect to OMB’s Corps budgeting and project selection process.

“OMB relies upon a method for prioritizing projects that fails to capture all of a project’s benefits. This method, called the ‘Benefit to Cost’ ratio, considers only a project’s national economic benefits.  When a Corps project provides important regional and local economic benefits, like flood protection or ecosystem restoration, these benefits are often not considered by OMB when it determines which projects should receive funding.  This means the budget and work plans regularly fail to include the construction of projects that would address critical needs in smaller rural and tribal communities.

“OMB is also a ‘black box.’ The agency rarely, if ever, discloses how projects are evaluated, raising serious questions about which projects will make it into the final Army Corps’ work plan each year.  This is also the case for projects that receive supplemental appropriations for damages sustained during a flood or storm event.

“Last Congress, we made strides in improving transparency with the Corps Budgeting process, and it is my hope that we can continue to build on that important progress. 

“Millions of Americans across the country really do rely on Army Corps projects. These projects help us safely navigate our waters, stay safe from flooding and storm damage, and reap the benefits of healthy aquatic ecosystems and marshlands.

“We need more investment in Corps projects, not less. In the mid-1980s, though, federal funding for new project construction and major rehabilitation began to steadily decline, and it has never recovered.

“As a result, we now face a backlog of projects and maintenance needs, and much of the Corps’ infrastructure is now exceeding its useful life span. The most recent American Society of Civil Engineers Infrastructure Report Card tells an unsettling story. Our country’s dams, levees, and inland waterways received a grade of a D – ‘D’ as in ‘dismal’ – representing a cumulative constructions and deferred maintenance backlog of more than $100 billion dollars.

“Clearly, our committee has important work to do in this regard. I think we’re up to it, though, and I look forward to working with all of our colleagues and the members of their staffs to deploy the ‘green’ as well as ‘gray’ (traditional) infrastructure projects that our economy needs.

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for holding this important hearing. I look forward to hearing from our witnesses.”