Improved Project Authorizations and Agency Practices Can Increase Congressional Control of Water Resources Projects

CED-78-123: Published: Jul 11, 1978. Publicly Released: Jul 11, 1978.

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Congress used two separate authorization methods to control the development of funding of water resources projects--the two-phase authorization for the Corps of Engineers and an authorization ceiling for the Bureau of Reclamation. The two-phase authorization was begun in 1974 to give Congress increased control over the design of water resources projects and the changes which occur during project planning by providing Congress with a second look during the planning phase before authorization of construction.

Each of the authorization methods provides some benefits to Congress, but neither is adequate by itself to provide effective control over planning and developing the projects. No Corps projects have been through the two-phase process because of delays by the Secretary of the Army and the Office of Management and Budget in reviewing Corps planning documents. Although the Corps must state that a project is without substantial controversy to allow a continuation of planning, no criteria for defining this term have been established. The Corps has not adequately notified Congress of changes to projects and the reasons for them. It exceeded estimated costs by significant amounts for noninflationary items without notifying the authorization committees and has credited inflation for too much of increased costs. Benefits of the authorization ceiling are that it serves as an early indicator of problems, limits federal expenditures, and controls the nature and scope of projects. Current problems in establishing the authorization ceiling are that it is established too early in the planning process for adequate data to be available, and the Bureau of Reclamation sometimes overstates the ceilings.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Army should direct the Corps of Engineers to: (1) develop criteria which would identify a project as having substantial controversy, including in the criteria a recognition that opposition by the state or local sponsor qualifies as controversy; and (2) require that post-authorization change reports be provided to the appropriate authorization committees when cost increases for noninflationary items are significant and ensure that causes of cost increases are properly identified. The Secretary of the Interior should direct the Bureau of Reclamation to: (1) limit the noncontract portion of the ceiling represented by federal salaries to increases caused by federal classified pay raises; (2) limit the land ceiling increases to those caused by inflation; (3) exclude from the indexing system all expended funds on an annual basis; and (4) improve the review process to ensure compliance with Bureau regulations and guidelines. If Congress believes that additional control over projects is warranted, an alternative method should be used that includes an improved two phase authorization coupled with an authorization ceiling.

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