Army Corps of Engineers:

The Corps Needs to Take Steps to Identify All Projects and Studies Eligible for Deauthorization

GAO-14-699: Published: Aug 21, 2014. Publicly Released: Sep 22, 2014.

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What GAO Found

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' (Corps) backlog list of authorized water resources construction projects is incomplete because the agency does not track all authorized projects and the list does not include studies. Specifically, GAO found that the backlog does not include some projects that were authorized but were not appropriated funds. Corps headquarters officials said that the agency does not have a policy instructing its district offices to enter into their databases projects that are authorized but have not been appropriated funds and that it is up to the discretion of the district offices to do so. Corps officials also stated that the agency does not include studies on its backlog, nor does it have a policy instructing district offices to track studies. Federal internal control standards state that agencies are to document internal controls in management directives, administrative policies, or operating manuals to help ensure consistent treatment. Officials at 15 of 16 district offices told GAO that they enter projects into the databases only after funds are appropriated. The Corps has begun to take steps to include all authorized projects in a new agency database; however, this database will not include studies. Federal internal control standards call for agencies to have mechanisms to appropriately document transactions and other significant events. Without written policies requiring districts to track all projects and studies and a mechanism to track studies, the Corps may continue to have an incomplete backlog list. The absence of a complete backlog list of projects and studies will likely make it difficult for the Corps to know the full universe of unmet water resource needs of the country, and Congress to make informed decisions when authorizing projects and studies, and appropriating funds.

The Corps has not identified all eligible construction projects and studies for deauthorization and has not complied with statutory requirements to notify Congress of all projects and studies eligible for deauthorization. The agency is unlikely to identify those projects that have been excluded from the databases and had no funds obligated for 5 fiscal years, because, as discussed above, the Corps does not require districts to enter all authorized projects into its databases. Officials GAO interviewed from 5 of 16 districts said they likely would not identify and add projects to the draft deauthorization eligible list because they were not required to do so. Moreover, the Corps has not complied with statutory requirements to notify Congress of all projects that have not had obligations in 5 fiscal years. Specifically, the Corps cannot demonstrate it transmitted a list of projects eligible for deauthorization 8 times in the 12 years it was required to do so since 1997. Corps headquarters officials said that the process and communication mechanisms for deauthorizing projects are not in Corps policies or procedures. Without documented policies and procedures consistent with federal standards for internal control, the Corps may continue its inconsistent publishing of deauthorization lists. In addition, the Corps has not complied with requirements to identify studies for deauthorization because officials have said the agency does not have the policies and procedures in place to do so. Without having the data, as discussed above, or policies and procedures in place to identify studies for deauthorization, the Corps and Congress will not have complete information to make decisions when prioritizing the water resources needs of the country.

Why GAO Did This Study

The Corps reports having a backlog of more than 1,000 authorized water resources construction projects in its Civil Works Program that it estimates to cost more than $62 billion to complete, as of June 2014. Federal statute requires the Corps to identify for deauthorization projects that have had no obligations for 5 years and studies that have had no appropriations for 5 years. Once a project or study is deauthorized, it must be reauthorized to begin or resume construction or study.

GAO was asked to review the Corps' construction backlog and deauthorization processes. This report examines (1) the extent to which the Corps tracks its backlog of construction projects and studies, and (2) the extent to which the Corps identifies construction projects and studies eligible for deauthorization, and meets statutory deauthorization requirements. GAO reviewed legislation, Corps policy, guidance, and documentation of its backlog and deauthorization process. GAO interviewed Corps headquarters officials and officials from 16 of the Corps' 38 domestic civil works districts, selected based on geographical representation and number of projects.

What GAO Recommends

GAO recommends, among other things, that the Corps establish and implement policies to ensure projects and studies are tracked; establish a mechanism to track studies; and develop and implement policies to identify projects and studies that meet deauthorization criteria, and notify Congress. The Department of Defense concurred with the recommendations.

For more information, contact Anne-Marie Fennell at (202) 512-3841 or fennella@gao.gov.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Open

    Comments: The Corps has developed a database on authorized construction projects and has used it for deauthorization activities, but the database is not yet on an Automated Information System platform due to contract capacity constraints for the software developers. Once data are included on an Automated Information System platform, guidance will be issued on data entry and updating of the data.

    Recommendation: To ensure that the Corps meets the statutory requirements related to deauthorization of projects, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Army to direct the Chief of Engineers and Commanding General of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to establish and implement a written policy to ensure all authorized projects are entered into the agency's database and tracked.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Open

    Comments: As of December 2016, GAO is reviewing actions by the agency to implement this recommendation.

    Recommendation: To ensure that the Corps meets the statutory requirements related to deauthorization of projects, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Army to direct the Chief of Engineers and Commanding General of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to determine what projects are eligible for deauthorization, transmit the list to Congress, and publish projects that are deauthorized in the Federal Register once the new database includes all authorized projects.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  3. Status: Open

    Comments: As of December 2016, GAO is reviewing actions by the agency to implement this recommendation.

    Recommendation: To ensure that the Corps meets the statutory requirements related to deauthorization of projects, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Army to direct the Chief of Engineers and Commanding General of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to establish and implement written policies and procedures documenting the project deauthorization process, from initial compilation of a list of eligible projects to submitting the list to Congress and publishing the projects that are deauthorized in the Federal Register.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  4. Status: Open

    Comments: As of December 2016, GAO is reviewing actions by the agency to implement this recommendation.

    Recommendation: To ensure that the Corps meets the statutory requirements related to deauthorization of projects, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Army to direct the Chief of Engineers and Commanding General of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to establish and implement a policy for record-keeping to ensure that documents related to deauthorization are maintained as federal records.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  5. Status: Open

    Comments: As of December 2016, a task order has been awarded for a contractor to prepare a comprehensive inventory of studies authorized by statute. Once the comprehensive inventory of studies is complete, the Corps will move the inventory to an automated information system platform and issue guidance on data entry and updating the data.

    Recommendation: To ensure that the Corps meets the statutory requirements related to deauthorization of incomplete water resources studies, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Army to direct the Chief of Engineers and Commanding General of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to establish a mechanism for tracking all authorized studies and establish and implement a written policy to ensure all authorized studies are tracked.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  6. Status: Open

    Comments: As of December 2016, a task order has been awarded for a contractor to prepare a comprehensive inventory of studies authorized by statute. Once the comprehensive inventory of studies is complete, the Corps will develop policies and procedures for the study deauthorization process.

    Recommendation: To ensure that the Corps meets the statutory requirements related to deauthorization of incomplete water resources studies, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Army to direct the Chief of Engineers and Commanding General of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to establish and implement policies and procedures documenting the deauthorization process for studies, from initial compilation of a list of eligible studies to submitting the list to Congress.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  7. Status: Open

    Comments: As of December 2016, a task order has been awarded for a contractor to prepare a comprehensive inventory of studies authorized by statute. Once the comprehensive inventory of studies is complete, the Corps will develop policies and procedures for the study deauthorization process and those policies and procedures will be used to carry out the process of deauthorizing studies.

    Recommendation: To ensure that the Corps meets the statutory requirements related to deauthorization of incomplete water resources studies, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Army to direct the Chief of Engineers and Commanding General of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to determine what studies are eligible for deauthorization and transmit the list to Congress.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

 

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