The Corps of Engineers’ Revised Review Process for Proposed Civil Works Projects 142188 ----_ -., .,.---- “.-..,_ .__. - ._.. -_ .I-_.-__. ._- .._-___ -____ Z” .’ ,, United States GAO General Accounting Office Washington, D.C. 20548 Resources, Community, and Economic Development Division B-239976 September 13,199O The Honorable Quentin Burdick Chairman, Committee on Environment and Public Works United States Senate The Honorable Daniel Patrick Moynihan Chairman, Subcommittee on Water Resources, Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on Environment and Public Works United States Senate The Honorable Glenn Anderson Chairman, Committee on Public Works and Transportation Houseof Representatives The Honorable Henry J. Nowak Chairman, Subcommitteeon Water Resources Committee on Public Works and Transportation Houseof Representatives This is the first in a series of reports addressingthe mandate in Section 44 of the Water ResourcesDevelopment Act of 1988 that GAO review the managementand administration of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ civil works program. This report describesrecent changesto the Corps’ review processfor feasibility studies that the Corps usesto recommend congressionalauthorization for constructing proposed civil works water resource projects. This report also examines the Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB) role in the review processunder Executive Order No. 12322, as amended. The Water ResourcesDevelopment Act of 1986 made a major change in financing the Corps’ water resourceprojects by generally requiring local sponsorsto share in the cost of planning and constructing civil works projects. The 1986 act also directed the Corps to study and expedite its planning and constructing capabilities while complying with applicable law. In responseto the act, the Corps revised its review processfor fea- sibility reports on proposed projects to more efficiently review the pro- posals and thus be more responsiveto local sponsors. Page I GAO/RCRD-90-188Water Resources Beginning in June 1988, the Corps changedits traditional method of Results in Brief sequential review and approval of feasibility reports on proposed projects by requiring issue resolution conferences(IRCS) that provide for early input by the Corps’ field and Washington levels on the proposed projects and by conducting the detailed technical and policy reviews by the Washington-levelreview elements concurrently. Designedto consid- erably shorten the Corps’ final reviews, these changesare supported by the newly established Washington Level Review Center (WLRC) which coordinates the concurrent review process.The new processdid not eliminate any review levels but added the concurrent review steps early in the Washington processand mandated the IRCS. The changeswere an attempt to meet an overall 6-month time frame goal for final decisions by the Washington-levelreview elements as opposedto the averageof 3.7 years for the old process. Becauseof the relatively short time the new processhas been in effect, no projects had completed the processwhen we completed our field- work. For the first project reviewed under the new process,we deter- mined that the IRC helped to familiarize the Washington-levelreview elements with the project and identified and resolved various issues early on. The detailed concurrent review at the Washington level raised certain technical and policy concernsand resolved them before the Washington-levelreview elements made their final decisionson the pro- posed project. The progress of the proposal did not meet the new goals for each step nor the final 30-day goal for the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works to review the feasibility report and submit it to the Congressfollowing OMB'S review. As of March 1990, the report had been with OMB for 6 months. The Corps’ proposed fiscal year 1991 budget includes funds to complete the pre-construction engineering and design of the project. Executive Order 12322 provides OMB with broad criteria and wide dis- cretion to determine whether a proposed project should be forwarded to the Congresson the basis of technical, economic,environmental, and administration policy. For proposed projects received during a 3-year period ending in October 1989, mostly before the new procedures were implemented, OMB'S review was performed within 30 days for only 4 of 26 reports, Of the 26 reports, 17 were sent to the Congressfor authori- zation after OMB reviews ranging from 1 to 15 months. Six reports had been in review from 1 to 18 months, and 2 had been rejected. OMB said that the promptness of these reviews dependsmostly on administration budget priorities and staff work load. Page 2 GAOpuXD-2@122 Water ltemowm . B-239976 The Corps’ $3 billion civil works program is the largest water resources Background development and managementprogram of the federal government. The current program concentratesprimarily on planning, constructing, and operating flood control and navigation projects that may also have water supply, recreation, and hydroelectric power benefits. A proposed civil works construction project begins when a citizen or community identifies a water resource problem to the Congresswhich, in turn, refers it to the Corps. If the Corps’ initial report of facts about the problem shows further study is warranted, the Congressmay authorize and fund planning for the proposed project. The first step in the planning processis a federally funded reconnais- sancestudy that results in a preliminary determination that a federal project is a plausible solution given that it meets Corps criteria and there is a local sponsor. With a positive reconnaissancereport and the local sponsor’s agreementto pay 60 percent of estimated costs,the Corps then conducts a feasibility study to develop a specific solution to the problem and an environmental assessmentof the proposed project. The feasibility study addressesthe technical, economic,and environ- mental aspectsof a water resourceneed and results in a feasibility report. Each feasibility report on a proposed project is reviewed at key points as it proceedsthrough the planning processwhich culminates in the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works recommending to the Congresswhether or not it should be authorized for construction. The organizational levels reviewing each proposed project are the Corps’ dis- tricts and divisions, and at the Washington level-the Board of Engi- neers for Rivers and Harbors (Board), the Chief of Engineers,and the Assistant Secretary. After the Washington-level approval of the project and OMB’S clearance,the Assistant Secretary recommendsit to the Con- gress.(Seeapp. I.) Spurred by the 1986 act that mandated cost sharing by local sponsorsof Review Process water resource projects, the Assistant Secretary and the Chief of Engi- Revised in Responseto neers started initiatives to create a more efficient review process.The the 1986 Act new processinvolves the Washington level early in the processand requires concurrent Washington-level reviews to avoid problems and Y delays when processingthe final feasibility report. (Seeapp. II.) Page 3 GAO/RCED-9O-lf3t3 Water Resources 1 0229P76 The Chief of Engineers also established the WLIZC in 1989 to participate in the IRCS,perform a detailed technical and policy review, and to coor- dinate the new concurrent review processestablished in 1988, Staffed by former employeesof the Board, WLRCis comprised of engineering, economic,environmental, and other experts who participate in the IRC, perform a detailed review of each proposed project for the Washington- level review elements, and coordinate these levels-the Board, the Chief of Engineers, and the Assistant Secretary. As already stated none of the sevenprojects in the processhad been completely reviewed at the end of our field work. Two of the sevenwere under review by the Assistant Secretary, three were in the early stages of Washington-levelreview, and two were on hold for more information or coordination. Early Input of Before the 1986 act, the Corps did not mandate an IRC on every proposed Washington-Level project, and the IRC, held at the discretion of the field or headquarters management,did not involve all Washington-levelreview elements. An Reviewers Through IRCs IRC is now required to be held during the feasibility phase before the Corps’ district and division offices approve the draft feasibility report for Washington-level review. According to the Corps, mandatory IRCS will acceleratethe project development processby ensuring that the proposed project is acceptableto all levels as early as possible in the planning process. The IRC is held in the field before the final feasibility report is prepared in order to provide the district with input from the Washington level on its concernsand problems with the proposed project. The IRC partici- pants try to resolve the problems before the report is submitted for Washington-level review. One important changewith the mandatory IRCS is the added input of the Assistant Secretary’s staff, who can com- ment on whether the proposed project meets the technical and policy criteria of the administration. For the Bayou La Batre, Alabama, proposed project, the first reviewed under the new procedures,the IRC resulted in guidance for the district to resolve several economic,technical, and policy issuesbefore the pro- posed project reached the Washington level. For example, an issue raised was that a cost analysis of bulkhead replacements was lacking. The district later provided the analysis in the final feasibility report. (Seeapp. III.) Page 4 GAO/RCEDfIO-188 Water Reeources B-222276 Concurrent Washington- The Corps’ prior review processrequired each level to review a pro- Level Reviews posed project before the proposal was forwarded to the next review level. To reduce the time consumedby this process,the Corps now requires a concurrent detailed review at the beginning of the Wash- ington-level processto enable the Corps to meet its time frame goals for the consecutivefinal approvals. The new review processadds two steps to the old: the concurrent Wash- ington-level reviews and VVLRC’S briefing of the Washington-level repre- sentatives before they make final decisionson the project. The new processincludes time frame goals for the various steps in the process and a 180-day goal for the entire review process,which starts with the division engineer’stransmittal of the feasibility report for Washington- level review and ends with the Assistant Secretary’s transmittal of the report to the Congress.In contrast to the 180-day goal, a 1988 Corps analysis of proposed projects that were processedunder the traditional procedures calculated an averageelapsedtime of 3.7 years for the Washington-level reviews. Figure 1 comparesthe traditional levels of review with the new process. Page 6 GAO/RCED-SO-188 Water Resources Flgun 1: Tnditionrl vr. Concumnt Rwiew ot Foa#ibillty Report8 TradItional Dlvlrbn Chief’s Assistant OMB Aa3tant wfw@&a Review & Review & Provides secretary Report Report R~iEitt~ Comment5 Transmit5 Regort to Report to COIIQRISS OMB I I Tmdltbns~ review - Cope oabulated averages: ( . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 186 days . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . )(.308 days.)(..586 days-.)( . .. .. . .. . .260 days . . .. . . .. .. ...) conourrent Dtuirbn WLRC Board Chief’s Assistant OMB Assistant Wd’ Review & Review & Secretary Provides Secretary :$!z Report Report Reviews & Comments Transmit5 Wash. Leveb WLRC Transmit5 Report to WLRC Review Briefing Report to Congress of Wash. OMB Levels Reps. I Conourrent review go&: ( . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ..*...*... 90 days . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . KS...30 days . . . . .)(.JOdays..)( . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .30 days ....... .....-.......) The Corps followed the new processfor the Bayou La Batre proposed project. During concurrent review of this proposal, observations from the WLRC’S site field trip, additional data and analysesprovided by the district to answer review comments on the magnitude of shipbuilding and fishing benefits, and data on the environmental impact of the pro- ject were considered.~LRCcomments and other issuesraised by the Washington-level review elements,except the local sponsorship issue, were resolved before the feasibility report on the proposed project was sent to the Board, the Chief of Engineers, and the Assistant Secretary for their final review and approval. Although this proposed project exceededthe Corps’ review goals by 6 months when it was sent to the Assistant Secretary, it was a significant improvement on the past averagetime frame. Page 6 GAO/lZC~@O-1Bs Water ltmounw Executive Order 12322 provides OMB broad authority and criteria to Ekecutive Order Gives determine for the administration whether a proposed project is a sup- OMB Broad Review portable candidate to include in the federal water resourcesdevelop Authority ment program on technical, economic,environmental, and policy bases. OMB'S review occurs after the proposed project is reviewed by the Assis- tant Secretary but before the Assistant Secretary transmits the proposal to the Congress. OMB'S review may include technical aspectsof the proposed project as well as fundamental policy considerations. The Chief of the OMB Water ResourcesBranch told us, for example, that the executive order allows OMB to make a fairly broad review to ensure that the proposed project complies with the administration’s policies, programs, and published guidance. In addition to such criteria that the review levels use for pro- ject authorizations, OMB applies an additional set of stricter criteria when formulating the budget that aims to ensure that the projects gen- erating the greatest economicreturn are given the highest priority. He said the extent of review each proposed project receivesis not strictly defined but that the review stops when the staff is comfortable that the project is consistent with the administration’s standards. According to the OMB staff, the time between the Assistant Secretary’s transmittal of a proposed project and OMB'S responsecan be lengthy, but they emphasizedthat all feasibility reports submitted by the Corps are eventually reviewed. They said the promptness of this review depends on OMB staff work load and administration budget priorities. They said that OMB had not approved or committed to the 30-day goal for Assistant Secretary review that includes OMB'S review and clearance.The OMB staff said it would be.difficult to complete the review within 30 days as it often takes 30 days to get a question answered. We analyzed the progress of 26 reports the Assistant Secretary sent to OMB between November 1986 and October 1989. Of the 26 reports, 17 were sent to the Congressfor authorization after OMB reviews ranging from 1 to 16 months. Six reports had been in review from 1 to 18 months, and 2 had been rejected. During this 3-year period, mostly before the new procedures were implemented, OMB accomplishedits review within 30 days in 4 of the 26 cases.The impact of this on the construction authorization processhas been mitigated in somecases becausethe Congresshas not waited for OMB'S review and has included many project proposals in legislation authorizing construction. In fact, 10 of the 26 reports were authorized for construction before they were Page 7 GAO/RCED-B&188 Water I&mom sent to OMB. In those cases,an OMB review is still conducted, but for another purpose, such as for inclusion in the President’s budget. Conclusions The major goal of the Corps’ new review procedures is to improve the timeliness of project proposals by requiring earlier involvement by the Washington levels. Becauseso few projects have been subjectedto the new process,however, it is too early to judge how effective the process will be in meeting this goal. An improved processshould be the result. Becauseof the input of the Assistant Secretary’s staff at the IRC, the administration’s criteria on acceptableprojects will be applied at a much earlier time than before, and projects not meeting the criteria will not proceed further. Further, the new process,if implemented properly, should shorten the review time within the Corps. For example, our casestudy showed that tech- nical and other issueswere resolved much earlier than would have been the caseunder the Corps’ prior process,and this resolution helped the proposed project move more rapidly than under the old procedures through the final Washington-level approvals. However, becauseOMB has wide discretion in its review of proposed water resource projects for the administration and is outside the Corps’ or Assistant Secretary’s control in terms of meeting the 30-day goal for review and transmittal of proposed projects to the Congress,it is ques- tionable whether the Corps’ goal will be met in most cases.Further improvement in expediting the submission of proposed projects to the Congressmight be made if the Secretary of the Army and OMB could agree on a specific time frame, perhaps a more realistic goal than 30 days, for their review and comment. The Secretary of the Army, through the Assistant Secretary of the Recommendationto Army for Civil Works, should work with the Director of OMB to establish the Secretary of the a realistic time frame goal for the expedited review of feasibility reports on proposed water resource development projects to be transmitted to AmY the Congressfor construction authorization. The Department of Defense(DOD) agreed with our findings and recom- Agency Comments and mendation. According to DOD, it will begin to provide OMB with key Our Evaluakion review documents from the Corps early on to alert it to the technical and policy issuesinvolved before it receivesthe feasibility report. DOD Page 8 GAO/RCJD40-188 Water ltemurce~ also stated that it is working with OMB to reduce the averagereview time and will provide a progress report by April 1991, (SeeDOD'S commentsin am. VJ OMB said that the procedures outlined by DOD should familiarize OMB per- sonnel with the proposed projects and help them avoid raising technical issuesalready satisfactorily addressed.OMB also stated that eliminating the work on technical issuesshould acceleratethe review time and increase the number of reports that OMB can process.However, OMB stated that becauseof competing priorities in OMB and its Natural ResourcesDivision, it did not agreewith the 30-day period for their review of feasibility reports and is reluctant to agreeto any period. OMB also said that additional staff was not a priority, While the new procedures established by DOD and OMB should help accel- erate the process,we believe that they must work together to establish a more realistic time frame goal for the review of feasibility reports if the timeliness of the review processis to be further improved. (SeeOMB'S comments and our evaluation in app. VI.) To document and compare the former and current review processes,we Scopeand interviewed officials at Corps headquarters Directorate of Civil Works, Methodology the Corps Office of History, the Directorate of ResourceManagement, the Board, the WLRC, the Office of the Chief of Engineers,the South Atlantic Division in Atlanta, Georgia, and the Division’s Mobile, Ala- bama, District Office. We obtained and analyzed documents,publica- tions, internal and external studies, engineering rules and circulars, and reviewed files at each of these locations about the levels of review. We also reviewed files in headquarters and field planning offices on ongoing studies of proposed projects to develop an understanding of the review process.We reviewed in detail how the Corps’ new processwas implemented for the first proposed project subjected to the new pro- cess-Bayou La Batre, Alabama, navigation improvement. We attended meetings of the Board and WLRC to gain insight into the new process.We also interviewed the staff of the Assistant Secretary and obtained docu- ments on their organization and role in the review process. To determine OMB'S role in the review process,we interviewed officials in the Water ResourcesBranch of the OMB Natural ResourcesDivision concerning their review of Corps proposed projects sent by the Assistant Page9 GAO/RCED-9%1sBWaterBesource~ B-239970 Secretary for approval. We also obtained data on their review criteria, authority, and status of reports under review. We conducted our review from January 1989 through February 1990 in accordancewith generally acceptedgovernment auditing standards. We are sending copiesof this report to the appropriate Senateand HouseCommittees, interested membersof the Congress,the Secretaries of Defenseand the Army; the Director of the Office of Managementand Budget; and the Chief, US. Army Corps of Engineers.We will make copies available to others upon request. This work was performed under the direction of James Duffus III, Director, Natural ResourcesManagementIssues,who may be reached at (202) 276-7766.Major contributors to this report are listed in appendix VII. fDifiii!?Q Assistant Comptroller General Page 10 GAO/RCED-BO-188 Water Resources Page 11 Contents Letter Appendix I 14 The Traditional Background The Levels of Review 14 14 Review Process Appendix II 18 The Corps’ New The 1986 Act Mandated Cost Sharing and Spurred Changes 18 Review Process IRCs Involve Washington Level Early 22 The Concurrent Washington-LevelReviews 23 Appendix III 27 CaseStudy of the Background Review Chronology 27 27 Proposed Bayou La Batre, Alabama, Project Appendix IV OMB’s Review of Executive Order Gives OMB Broad Authority Status of Feasibility Reports at OMB Feasibility Reports on Proposed Projects Appendix V 34 Comments From the Department of Defense Appendix VI 36 Comments From the GAO Comments 40 Office of Management and Budget Page 12 GAO/RCED-BO-188 Water l&sources Appendix VII 41 Major Contributors to Resources,Community, and Economic Development 41 Division, Washington, D.C. This Report Figures Figure 1: Traditional vs. Concurrent Review of Feasibility 6 Reports Figure I. 1: The Corps of Engineers Traditional Review 16 Processfor Feasibility Reports Figure II. 1: The Corps of Engineers New Concurrent 20 Review Processfor Feasibility Reports Abbreviations DOD Department of Defense EPA Environmental Protection Agency GAO General Accounting Office IRC issue resolution conference OMB Office of Managementand Budget WLRC Washington Level Review Center Page 13 GAO/RCEDMbl88 Water Itemmes Appendix I The Traditional Review Process Until 1988, the Corps’ processof bringing a water resource development proposal to the point of being recommendedto the Congressinvolved consecutivereviews by several entities within the Corps, by the Depart- ment of the Army, and by OMB. Becausethe reviews by levels above the Corps district office covered many aspectsof a feasibility report on a proposed project, the reviews often overlapped as a proposal progressed through the levels. In addition, under the traditional process,the feasi- bility study on a proposed project could be underway for several years by Corps field offices and local officials before the Washington-level review elements reacted to it. A proposed civil works construction project begins with the identifica- Background tion of a water resourceproblem to the Congressby a citizen or commu- nity. If the facts that the Corps provides to the Congresswarrant further study, the Congressmay authorize and appropriate funding for planning the proposed project. The first step in the planning processis a federally funded reconnaissancestudy, which results in a preliminary determination whether or not a federal project is a plausible solution. With a positive reconnaissancereport, and the local sponsor’s agreement to pay 60 percent of the study’s estimated costs,the Corps can prepare a feasibility study to develop a specific solution to the problem and an environmental assessmentof the proposed project. The Corps district’s feasibility study addressesthe technical, economic, and environmental aspectsof a water resource need and results in a fea- sibility report on a potential project. As needed,the district held an optional issue resolution conference(IRC) on the draft report to get a consensusamong the field levels on outstanding issuesor problems. The Levels of Review The “levels of review” for projects proposed in feasibility reports refers to the following organizations, discussedin the order they traditionally reviewed a report, l The District Engineer, who heads the principal planning and project implementation office of the Corps, begins the process.Each of 36 dis- tricts carries out Corps operations in specified geographic areas within divisions that are usually basedon watershed boundaries. . The 11 Corps Divisions supervise the districts within their area by reviewing and approving major plans and programs, implementing the Chief of Engineers’ policies, and reviewing district operations. Page 14 GAO/RCED-90-188Water Resources Appendix I The Traditional Review Process . The Board of Engineers for Rivers and Harbors is a body, comprised of sevenCorps engineer officers, appointed by the Chief of Engineersto conduct independent reviews of planning documents.The Board deter- mines the advisability of authorizing the construction of water resource projects and makes recommendationsto the Chief. l The Chief of Engineers is the U.S. Army officer that commandsthe Corps and reports to the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works. . The Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works overseesfor the Secretary of the Army all aspectsof the civil works program imple- mented by the Corps of Engineers.This responsibility includes policy formulation and program direction for all water resourcesdevelopment, oversight of regulatory activities, review of legislation and other reports to the Congress,and review of the budget. . The OMB, part of the Executive Office of the President, reviews a pro- posed project recommendedby the Assistant Secretary to determine its relationship to the program of the President. A Sketch of the The pre-1988 review processwas sequential with each review level con- Traditional Review ducting an independent analysis of a proposed project. Figure I. 1 is a sketch of the traditional levels of review. Process Page 16 GAO/RCED-90-188 Water lhourcea Apptmdxl The Tradltlonal Review Proeees Flgure 1.1:The Corps of Englnwrr Traditional Review Procera tor Feasibility Reports Field Dlstrlct Completes Report Offices After Optional Issue Resolution Conference Dlvlrlon Reviews District’s Report, and Submits Report to the Board I ---------~---I---_I--+------;-----~----m.., The Board Reviews The Feasibility , Study and Issues Its Own Report- Proposed Report 186a I I Sent to State a Federal Agencies for go-day Comment 1 and ElSb to EPA for 30-day Comment Chief of Engineers Considers the Comments of the States and Federal 308' Agencies, Reviews the Feasibility Report and Prepares a The Asalstant Secretary Reviews the OMB Reviews Feasibility Study; Requests The Views Report, Writes 586a of OMB Views in Letter +i I The Assistant Secretary Transmits the Feasibility Report Including 2608 OMS Comments to the Congress aNumbers indicate Corps-calculated average times in days for each step. The 4 steps total 3.7 years. ‘Environmental Impact Statement. Page 16 GAO/RcEDo-If38 Water Resources The traditional review processbegan with the district’s review. The dis- trict commander transmitted the feasibility report to the division for a coordinated review of the planning, engineering, economic,environ- mental, institutional, real estate, legal and policy aspectsof the report. After determining that the proposed project met standards for these aspects,the division engineer issued a public notice announcing the transmittal of the feasibility report to the Board and the availability of the report for interested parties to review and comment to the Board within 30 days. The Board staff conducted its detailed review for quality and consis- tency with federal standards in generally the samebroad aspectsas the division and presented its recommendation to the Board. The Board then transmitted the report and its recommendation to the Chief of Engineers as to the advisability of the Corps’ participation in the project. Fol- lowing Board review, the proposed report of the Chief of Engineers,the Board report, and the environmental impact statement were sent to the heads of other federal agenciesand governors of affected states for comment within 90 days. At the sametime, the environmental impact statement was also sent to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other interested parties for commentswithin 30 days from the date EPA publishes a notice that the final environmental impact statement was filed. The Chief of Engineers consideredthe state and agency comments,the Board recommendation, and EPA and other commentsreceived on the final environmental impact statement in preparing his report. Head- quarters review of the report for the Chief focused on national consis- tency, adherenceto policy, responsivenessto the comments, as well as on certain technical aspectsof the recommendedproject. The Chief then acted on the recommendations and made a final transmittal report to the Secretary of the Army, in care of the Assistant Secretary. The Chief’s transmittal of the feasibility report was reviewed by the Assistant Secretary’s staff for accordancewith administration policy, guidelines, budget priorities, and certain technical aspects.The Assis- tant Secretary transmitted the report to OMB for comment. After OMB'S concurrence,the Assistant Secretary transmitted a final recommenda- tion to the Congress. Page 17 GAO/RCED-90.188 Water Resources Appendix II The Corps’ New l&view Process A 1988 Corps’ estimate showed that the review processthat existed prior to that time required an averageof 3.7 years to review a feasibility report at the Washington level. Spurred by this statistic and the Water ResourcesDevelopment Act of 1986’ that mandated cost sharing by local sponsorsof all water resource projects, the Assistant Secretary directed that this time be shortened to 180 days (6 months) to be more responsiveto the local sponsors.The 1986 act also had required that the Corps study and expedite its planning and construction process. Towards these ends,the Assistant Secretary and the Chief of Engineers have established a new, more efficient review processthat involves early participation by the various organizations at the Washington level and concurrent, rather than sequential, Washington-level detailed reviews. The Chief of Engineers also established the WLRC to participate in the IRCS, to perform a detailed technical and policy review, and to coordinate the new concurrent review process. The new processdid not eliminate any review levels but added the con- current review steps early in the Washington processin an attempt to meet a 6-month time frame goal for final decisionsby the Washington- level review elements. With passageof the 1986 act, the Corps entered into a new era of pro- The 1986 Act ject development becausethe act requires an increased commitment to Mandated Cost shared responsibility for water resource development by mandating cost Sharing and Spurred sharing by all local sponsorsin planning and construction except for inland waterway navigation improvements. The 1986 act also included Changes provisions that required the Corps to study and implement ways to expedite its planning and construction process. The changesin the Corps’ traditional approach to civil works projects addressedthe fact that local sponsorswould now have to share any cost and time inefficiencies in the planning and construction process.The traditional processhas involved lengthy project review, approval, and funding procedures taking in somecasesup to 26 years to progress from the start of planning through construction. In particular, the Wash- ington-level portion of the processwas consideredredundant because many of the same aspectsof a feasibility report were reviewed several times in a lengthy, deliberate process,according to the 1988 Corps task force study titled “Consolidating the Review Staffs of the Board of Engi- neers for Rivers and Harbors and the Chief of Engineers.” ‘Public Law 99-662, approved on November 17,1986. Page 18 GAO/RCEMtO-lt3f3Water Resources The Assistant Secretary wrote on January 4,1988, that the new law drastically changesthe way the Corps doesbusinessand that measures were neededto enhancehandling of its workload. Among the changesin the processof reviewing proposed projects that he said should be imple- mented were . early review by the Assistant Secretary of projects exceeding$10 mil- lion in cost, prior to completion of the district engineer’s feasibility report; and l elimination of duplicate reviews of the sameaspectsof the project. The Corps first respondedto the 1986 act in March 1987, convening a panel that traveled around the country getting local sponsor and Corps staff input on project development as a partnership. Another task force reported on its study of the Washington-level review processin Feb- ruary 1988. These and other efforts in responseto the 1986 act were brought together under the “Initiative ‘88” program by the Chief of Engineers.The program was to respond to the Assistant Secretary, who wanted to create a more effective and efficient model for developing and implementing water projects by building on the work of the Corps task forces and panels and drawing on private sector techniques such as pro- ject management,cost control, and construction productivity. Generally, the major thrusts of the post-1986 act review processinitia- tives have been to . involve the Washington level early in the planning processin order to avoid problems a,nd delay when processing the final report and 9 establish concurrent Washington-level reviews to increasethe timeliness of the review process. These changesare supported by the newly established ~LRCwhich per- forms a detailed review and coordinates the concurrent review process. Figure II. 1 graphically represents the new process.The steps outlined in broken lines indicate a revised review step, procedure, or time frame. The other steps are unchanged from the traditional process. Page 19 GAOpXD-9@199 Water l&m- I The Cbrp# New Review Process Figure 11.1:The Corps of Engineers New Concurrent Review Process for Feasibility Reports Mandatory Issue Resolution Conference . x\ Division Review and Adoption of Report r- Washington Level -\ , Concurrent Review Begins Review Begins 0 Days ------m-m 4 Feasibility Report ~D~i~~E~gi~e~ I Notice Allowing Submitted to the WLRC I 30 Days for Public I Comment to WLRC on Report I- ------. I Within 30 Days I WLRC Initiates Draft WLRC ’ 90-Day State and Assessment 1 Federal Agency I I Review ‘> Secretary Staffs’ iReview and input to WLRC . \ I I I Y 1 Final WLRC Assessment 4 I Page20 GAO/RCFD4W199Water Reaourcea Appendix II The Corps’ New Review Process A 0 +90 Days )---- 1 ----. Concurrent Review Ends 1 Briefing of Washington 1 Level Designated Senior , Reps. of the Chief of , Engineers, Board, and , Assistant Secretary +120 Days 1 Board Meeting and Report \ \ +150 Days Chief of Engineer’s +180 Days (Review Goal) r-l Assistant Secretary Transmits Feasibility Report to Congress Page 21 GAO/RC~SO-188 Water Resources Appendix II The Cmpe’ New Review Proeesa Under the traditional process,the Corps division or headquarters units IRCs Involve had the option of using checkpoint or issue conferencesduring the study Washington Level to check progress or resolve issueson a project proposal. The IRC is a Early meeting held in the field before the final feasibility report is submitted for Washington-level review that provides the district with early input from the Washington-level review elements on concernsand problems with the study to that point. The participants try to reach a solution (resolution) for the problems that the district can incorporate in the study before a report is submitted for Washington-level review. The Corps issued an engineering circular in June 1988 requiring an IRC to be attended by representatives from the office of the Assistant Secre- tary, the Chief of Engineers,the Board, and the new WLRC, as well as the division and district. The local sponsor is also encouragedto attend. The circular indicated that the procedures for early agency commitment are designedto (1) acceleratethe project development processby getting assurancethat the proposed project is acceptableto all levels as early as possible in the planning processby resolving significant issuesor problems with the proposal before the Washington-level review2 and (2) fulfill a commitment to the local sponsor to expeditiously processthe feasibility report and submit the proposal for congressional authorization. Limited experience exists to evaluate whether the mandatory IRCS had reduced the review time at the Washington level. Only sevenproposed projects had been submitted for Washington-level review after under- going an IRC and none had been submitted to the Congressas of a Sep- tember 391989, report from the WLRC. Corps Views on IRCs Corps headquarters and field civil works officials we interviewed in the planning and policy areas were generally positive but were reserving final opinions about the impact the IRCS will have on the progress of project proposals, Similarly, Mobile District and South Atlantic Division planning staff memberstold us that their experience with the Bayou La Batre, Alabama, proposed project indicated that the mandatory IRCS would save time during the Washington-level review process. 2The district is required to record the results of the IRCs in a memorandum for the record. On the basis of their review of the memorandum for the record, Corps headquarters writes a guidance mem- orandum, coordinated with the Assistant Secretary, to the district office, to guide their completion of the final report. Page 22 GAO/RCED-90-188 Water Resource8 Someof the officials acknowledged that the IRCShave lengthened the front-end of the review processand may need somefine tuning but should increase quality and timeliness in the long run. According to the former headquarters Planning Division Chief for example, the initial experience was that the time involved in documenting the IRCSand pre- paring the feasibility reports was taking much longer than expected as field and headquarters staff work out turf problems and adjusted to the new review staff organization and procedures. Two district planning officials, while positive about the mandatory IRCS,said they would be even more effective if held earlier during the feasibility study to mini- mize resourcesspent on a study that would not be approved at the Washington level. The study manager for the Bayou La Batre proposed project stated that the rigors of the IRCscrutiny of the proposal was a painful experience but he credited it with substantially strengthening the economic analysis of the study as well as addressingengineering and environmental concerns.He expected the IRCto increasethe efficiency of the Washington-level reviews. The IRCon the Bayou La Batre proposal resolved issuesand familiarized the Washington-level review elements with the proposed project. Two or more issueswere identified during the IRCfor the district to addressin each of the following areas: economicanalysis, plan formulation, envi- ronmental, policy/cost sharing, and engineering/dredging. To satisfy each of the issues,the district either revised the draft report or devel- oped additional information or analyses between the April 1988 IRC and district’s submittal of the report to the division in September 1988. The February 1988 Task Force report titled “Consolidating the Wash- The Concurrent ington Level Review of Feasibility Reports” found that the old system of Washington-Level review at the Washington level had contributed to the lengthy Reviews processingtime in Washington. It identified such delay factors as the time neededto resolve issuesand concerns,duplication of review by the Washington-level review elements, duplication of requests for informa- tion by various reviewers, conflict in workloads, and late start and com- pletion of the go-day state and agency review period. The task force recommendedconsolidating the review processand requiring a simultaneous review coordinated by a centralized profes- sional staff. The central staff function would be carried out by the Board staff. Such a consolidated processwould retain the independent prerogatives of each Washington-level review element, however. Page 28 GAO/RCFJD-90-188 Water Resource8 , Appendix II The Corps New Review Process In June 1988 the Chief of Engineers issued an engineering circular that formalized the new concurrent project review and approval procedures. The circular prescribed procedures for the submittal and the concurrent Washington-level review and processingof feasibility reports on pro- posed projects. The circular stated that the central staff would coordi- nate and consolidate the Washington-level reviews, as well as review the proposal to make an assessmentfor the decision-makers. After the Washington-level reviews are performed concurrently, the WLRC briefs the senior representatives of the Board, Chief of Engineers, and the Assistant Secretary simultaneously on the results of the reviews. Following the briefing, each Washington-level review element decideswhether to approve the proposal. The expectation is that becausethe staffs of the Washington-level review elements had worked out problems and concernsat an earlier time, the proposal would be acted on quickly. Review Staff In January 1988 the Chief of Engineers reported that 36 separate Reorganization aspectsof a project proposal in the areas of planning, engineering, eco- nomic, environmental, social/institutional, real estate, legal, and policy received more than one review considering both the division and Wash- ington-level review elements. The January 1988 report’s proposals to address duplication at the Washington level were to create a central reviewing and coordinating unit and obtain concurrent review of its results. The report proposed to allow each Washington-level review ele- ment to act on the proposed projects independently within 30 days and in the traditional sequenceafter they were briefed by the coordinating unit. Another Corps task force-the “Review Staff Consolidation Study Group” -produced a July 1988 report to respond to the Assistant Secre- tary’s request for recommendationson consolidating the Board and headquarters review staffs to support both groups. The report’s recom- mendation was generally adopted by the Chief of Engineers with the consent of the Assistant Secretary in December1988 to designate the existing Board staff, except for four advisors, as the new WLRC unit of the Water ResourcesSupport Center, which reports to the Chief of Engi- neers. The WLRC absorbedplanning and policy detailed review functions from headquarters and becamethe central office for all Washington- level reviews. The independenceof the Board is preserved by retaining the four advisors to participate in the review processto develop recom- mended actions for the Board. Page 24 GAO/JCJiD-9@lf3tlWater Eenonrcee AppemUx II The Corps’ New Revlew Proam Two goals of the reorganization were to reduce the duplication of reviews by the former Board staff and the Corps headquarters staff and to consolidate the review staffs of the Board and the Chief of Engineers so that one staff would support both as well as the concurrent review process. The mandatory IRC and the concurrent review processattempted to addressthe sequential review processwhich required that each review level conduct an independent analysis of the samefacts. This process was duplicative becausemany of the sameaspectsof a proposal were independently reviewed several times as it moved from the district office through the review chain. The Corps followed the new processfor the Bayou La Batre proposed project. During concurrent review of this proposal, observations from the WLRC'S site field trip, additional data and analysis provided by the district to answer review comments on the magnitude of shipbuilding and fishing benefits, and data on environmental impact of the project were considered.WLRCreview comments and other technical and policy concernsraised by the Washington level, excepting the local sponsorship issue, were resolved before the feasibility report on the proposed project was sent to the Board, the Chief of Engineers, and the Assistant Secre- tary for their final review and approval. Although the first proposed project processeddid not meet the Corps’ goals for completion of con- current review in 90 days or each Washington-level approval within 30 days, it did improve on the past averagetime frames up to the point the Assistant Secretary transmitted it to OMB. It took 12 months to that point versus an averageof 36 months, according to the Corps’ 1988 estimate. Corps Views on the Planning division officials we interviewed at Corps headquarters, divi- Concurrent Rev,iews sion, and district offices were generally positive about the impact of the new procedures on the processingof proposed projects. Most were cau- tious, however, becausethere had been little or no experience with the new concurrent review procedures or WLRC during our work in that no proposal had gone through the WLRC and all the levels of review at that point. As of September30,1989, seven feasibility reports had been submitted to the WLRCand two of these had completed concurrent review and progressedas far as final review by the Assistant Secretary. The two proposals that had been sent to the Assistant Secretary had exceeded the S-month target time frame for progress to that point by about 4 and Page 25 GAO/WED-Wl88 Water Resources 2 months. The progress of two others through the Washington-level reviews was delayed becauseof requests by the Chief of Engineers or the WLRC for more information and coordination. The three other reports were in the early stagesof assessmentby the WLRCstaff and concurrent review by the Washington level. According to the former headquarters Civil Works Planning Division Chief, the limited initial experience with the new concurrent review processwas that target time frames had been significantly exceeded,but fine tuning of the processmay improve this. At the South Atlantic Division and Mobile District, Planning Divi- sion and Project Managementofficials we visited were generally positive about the impact of the new concurrent review processon the basis of their experience with the first proposal through it. Page 26 GAO/lKJD9@188 Water ltmourcea Appendix III CaseStudy of the ProposedBayou La Batre, Alabama, Project To understand how the Corps implemented its new procedures for Washington-levelreviews, we reviewed the first proposed project sub- jected to the new process-the Bayou La Batre, Alabama, navigation improvement. For this project, we determined that the IRC helped to familiarize the Washington-level review elements with the project and identified and resolved various issuesearly in the process.The detailed concurrent review at the Washington level raised certain technical and policy concernsand resolved them before the various Washington-level reviewers were to make their final decisionson the proposed project. However, the Corps’ 30-day goal for the Assistant Secretary to review the proposal and submit the report to the Congressafter OMB’S input was not met. The report had been under OMB review for 6 months as of March 1990. Background The Bayou La Batre feasibility study of proposed navigation improve- ments was conducted under the authority of the House Committee on Public Works resolution adopted October 10,1974, and was funded and begun in 1986. The study’s objective was to investigate the potential for deepening,widening, and extending the federal channel at the city of Bayou La Batre, Alabama, located on the Gulf of Mexico about 30 miles southwest of Mobile. The channel servesthe two major industries and employers in the area-commercial fishing and boat building firms. The geographic area of the study included the existing bayou and channel as well as the adjacent Mississippi Sound and the Gulf. The feasibility report estimated that the total cost of the proposed project would be more than $16 million in October 1988 dollars. The Bayou La Batre’s proposal was the first Corps project processed Review Chronology under the new procedures.A chronology of events as the Bayou La Batre’s proposal advancedthrough the processfollows. The IRC Process l April 21-22,1988 - The IRC was held in the Corps Mobile District and was attended by various district, division, Board, and HQ personnel along with state, county, and city officials and representatives of sea- food and boat building companies.Under the new process,the IRC is to provide the district with early input from the Washington level on con- cerns and problems with the study to that point. Specifically, for the Bayou La Batre the IRC was held for three purposes:(1) to involve Wash- ington-level review elements in the feasibility study before releasing the draft report, (2) to identify and resolve major issuesand concerns Page 27 GAO/RCEJJ-S&188 Water Resources Apw* Jn CaseStudy of the Ropoeed Bayou La Batre, Alsbamr, project before releasing a draft report to the public, and (3) to help establish the scopeof the involvement by Washington level in future IRCS. During the meeting two or more issuesunder each of the following topics were iden- tified: economic analysis, plan formulation, environmental, policy/cost sharing, and engineering or dredging. l May 3, 1988 - To follow up on the IRC, the Mobile District drafted a mem- orandum on the various issuesidentified during the conference.To resolve the issues,the Mobile District proposed either to revise the draft report or to develop additional information or analyses. For example, under the plan formulation topic, the confereessaid that a cost analysis of bulkhead replacements was needed.The Mobile District responded that such an analysis would be contained in the feasibility report at the next step in the process. l May 6, 1988 - The district’s draft memorandum listing IRC issueswas sent to the South Atlantic Division which forwarded it to Corps head- quarters Planning Division. l July 8, 1988 - The Chief of Engineer’s Planning Division Chief responded to the district’s memorandum stating that he acceptedmany of the issuesas listed and made someslight modifications in others. l September7,1988 - To respond to questions about local sponsorship raised at the IRC, the city of Bayou La Batre submitted a letter to the district stating the city’s intent to sponsor the project and do what it could to provide, within its capability, the financial and other assistance required to successfully complete the project. The District Engineer, the Assistant Secretary, and the Board review team did not consider the letter as sufficient commitment to sponsor the project becausethe city was still seeking state financing. Consequently, the local sponsor issue remained unresolved despite the IRC effort. The IRC did resolve many other economic,technical, and policy issuesbefore the proposal reached the Washington level. l September l&l988 - The district forwarded the revised feasibility report and environmental impact statement to the Division after incor- porating the headquarter’s responseto the district’s memorandum on the IRC and the public comments obtained in January 1986 and August 1988 hearings into the final report. In summary, the Corps followed the new procedures for mandatory IRCS. Issuesthat could have causeddelays were raised, documented, and resolved by the time the WLRCwas ready to brief the Washington-level review elements on its final assessment. Page 28 GAO/RCED-SO-188 Water Resoutves Cam Study of the Pro& Bayou La Bdre, -una, WJm The Concurrent Review September30, 1988 - After reviewing the district’s feasibility report, the l Process Division Engineer issued a public notice to interested parties that the proposal was available for comment and ransmitted the report for the Washington-levelreview. Upon receipt os the report, the Board staff (shortly thereafter reorganized as the WLRC) transmitted copies to the Assistant Secretary, Chief of Engineers,and the Board for their concur- rent review and comment. The report was also sent out by the Board staff for the QO-dayreview by states and other federal agencies. l January Q-13,1989 - As part of their detailed review, the new WLRC vis- ited the Bayou La Batre project site to obtain information from the field staff and resolve review comments.The WLRCconducted meetings with the local sponsor and the Mobile District during this visit. l February 24,1989 - The WLRC transmitted its final assessmentof the proposed project to the division engineer. The document (1) consolidated the report review comments from the Washington level; (2) reflected the observations and conclusionsfrom the WLRC’S site trip that included a meeting with the local sponsor and field office staff; and (3) identified additional data and analyses required from the district office on such issuesas the magnitude of shipbuilding, fishing, and other benefits of the project, as well as environmental impact and mitigation. The assess- ment also enumerated the disposition of issuesfrom the IRC. The WLRC cited the lack of a willing and able local sponsor as the primary unresolved issue and said it would not support favorable processingof the report at the briefing if this was not corrected. . May 11, 1989 - The WLRC acting director transmitted the final assess- ment and the field’s responseto the senior representatives of the Wash- ington level in preparation for briefing them later in the month. The transmittal stated that the district and division responsessatisfied all the concernsraised in the IRC memorandum, the WLFIC field visit, and in the final assessment,with the exception that the WLRCdid not receive a satisfactory responseon the local sponsor issue. The WLRC staff did not believe that the city of Bayou La Batre had the financial capability to sponsor the project and wanted the state of Alabama’s confirmation of intent to serve as the local sponsor. l May 26, 1989 - The WLRC briefed the senior representatives of the Board, Corps Headquarters, and the Assistant Secretary on the Bayou La Batre study to initiate the final decision-making process.The local cost- sharing arrangements for the project generated extensive discussion among the participants. The WLRCreview manager recommendedthat the project not be sent to the Congressuntil the local sponsor’scommit- ment had been adequately demonstrated. Page 29 GAO/RCED-90-188Water Resources Caw Study of the PropoeedBayou La Batm, - Rrojm In summary, the concurrent review processthat concluded with the briefing of the senior representatives had resolved many issuesbefore the proposal was sent to the Board, the Chief of Engineers,and the Assistant Secretary for their final approval. Although the proposed pro- ject did not meet the QO-daygoal for the concurrent review procedure or the 30-day goals for Washington-level approvals, it did make steady pro- gressthroughout the process,improving on averagetime frames under the traditional processup to the point it was sent to OMB. It took 12 months to that point versus an averageof 36 months, according to the Corps’ 1988 estimate. Final Approval Process . June 13,1989 - The Board’s advisors briefed them on the proposed pro- ject and discussedthe local sponsor issue. The advisors recommended that the project be approved with the condition that the local sponsor provide evidenceof their ability to meet their financial responsibilities for the project. The Board consideredthe recommendation but, on the basis of their interpretation of the existing cost-sharing commitment, voted unanimously to accept the city’s letter of intent as adequate evi- denceof their commitment. l June 16,1989 - The Board sent its recommendation to the Chief of Engi- neers that the project be constructed generally in accordancewith the district engineer’s feasibility study plan. l August 3,1989 - The Chief of Engineers recommendedthe project to the Secretary of the Army. The Chief concurred with the Board that the project be authorized generally in accordancewith the district engi- neer’s recommendedplan. l September 27,1989 - The Assistant Secretary forwarded the Bayou La Batre feasibility report to OMB recommendingthat the report be sent to the Congressfor construction authorization. As of March 1990, OMB had not responded,according to the Assistant Secretary’s deputy. Page a0 GAO/~ml86 Water Reao- Appendix IV OMB’sReview of Feasibility Reportson ProposedProjects Before feasibility reports on proposed projects are sent to the Congress for construction authorization, they are reviewed by OMBfor consistency with the policies and programs of the President and with federal guide- lines for water resource projects. OMB'Sviews on a proposed project are reported in the Secretary of the Army’s transmittal to the Congress. Executive Order 123221gives OMBa key review role on behalf of the administration. The executive order provides OMBwith broad criteria and wide discre- tion to determine whether a proposed project should be forwarded to the Congresson the basis of technical, economic,environmental, and administration policy. The Corps’ 30-day goal for the Assistant Secre- tary of the Army to review a proposed project and submit it to the Con- gress following OMB'Sreview has not beenmet often. During a 3lyear period ending in October 1989 OMB'Sreview was performed within 30 days in only 4 of 26 cases. Executive Order 12322 provides OMBwith broad authority and criteria Executive Order Gives for its water resourcesbranch under the Deputy Associate Director for OMB Broad Authority Natural Resourcesto review all proposed projects to be sent to the Con- gress for authorization or appropriations. Their review is to determine whether the proposed project is a supportable candidate for inclusion in the federal water resourcesdevelopment program on the basis of various technical, economic,environmental, and administration policies. The executive order requires OMBto review these factors before a pro- posal may be sent to the Congress. According to the OMB'SChief of Water ResourcesBranch, the order pro- vides for a fairly broad policy and technical review to make sure that the policies, programs, and guidance of the administration are complied with in the proposed project. He said the branch’s review stops when the staff is comfortable that the project is in compliance. First, sum- mary-level information is reviewed and more details are consulted as needed.The branch chief said that many reports are found satisfactory quickly but on others, more information, meetings or field trips are nec- essary to complete a review. He said that it was hard to state precisely where OMB'Sreview stops, only that it must continue until OMBdeter- mines whether a project meets administration standards. ‘Issued September 17,1981, and amended on September 9,1987, by Executive Order 12608. Page 31 GAO/RCED-90-188Water Resources OMB’r Review of Feasibility Reporta on PropoeeaProJ- The branch chief said that OMB tries to carry out the spirit of the order and doesnot have a policy of stopping projects. He said if OMB does not have a substantive problem, then it would clear the project for the Assistant Secretary to forward to the Congress.He said that if substan- tive problems are found, the Assistant Secretary is notified. According to the branch chief, somereports may be held until OMBgets an answer to questions, but inaction is not a strategy for dealing with reports sub- mitted for review. Projects with higher budget priority do get first attention, he said, and external factors, like congressionalinterest and external information received by the OMB staff contribute most to deter- mining priorities among the rest. Regarding the extent of OMB’S review, the Deputy for Planning Policy and Legislative Affairs in the Assistant Secretary’s office, whose office reviews the proposed projects and coordinates with OMB, said OMB does not use its very broad review authority to its full extent very often. He said that becausethe system is designedto have all technical reviews completed at the district, division, and the WLRC, OMB normally doesnot go into technical detail. The OMB Branch Chief said that the promptness of OMB reviews of Corps proposals dependsmostly on budget priorities and staff workload. He emphasizedthat OMB’S intention is to review all reports-good, bad, or indifferent-with the only question being the order of review. According to the branch chief, the Corps can produce many more pro- posals than the present OMB branch staff can handle. He said the branch would quickly processall proposals received to make an authorization recommendation to the Congressif it had the staff, and OMB wants an administration position on every project even if a project meeting administration policies and guidance has a low budget priority. In a report on the managementof OMB, we indicated that major factors influ- encing OMB’S performance were the resource and time constraints. The report stated that since 1970 the number of OMB staff had actually declined even with an increasing workload. The report recommended that the Director of OMB take steps to either increaseor supplement staff resources.2 As for the Corps’ initiative to get the Washington-level review elements involved early in projects, the water branch chief said that OMB decided not to becomeinvolved becauseit was concernedabout retaining its e Government: Revised Approach Could Improve OMB’s Effectiveness (GAO/ , May 4,1989), chapter 6. Page a2 GAO/RCED-B0-188 Water Resources Appendix IV OMB’s Review of Feasibility Repoti on ~Po@edproj- final review prerogative, and becausethe staff was too small to attend all of the IRCS. Regarding the Corps’ 30-day goal for final reviews, the branch chief said that it would be difficult to complete the review in 30 days, stating that it often takes 30 days to get a question answered. Both the Assistant Secretary’s staff and the OMB branch chief said that OMB had not approved or committed to the 30-day goal for the Assistant Secretary’s review, review and clearanceby OMB, and transmittal of pro- posals to the Congress. Although the OMB staff states that all reports submitted are reviewed, Status of Feasibility the time the feasibility reports spend at their level can be lengthy, and Reports at OMB for the recent past, exceedsthe 30-day goal set under the new concur- rent review process.The Assistant Secretary must send reports for review at OMB before they can be transmitted to the Congressfor author- ization consideration. Using data from the Assistant Secretary and OMB reports, we reviewed OMB'S review time and the status of the reports handled. According to the Assistant Secretary’s staff log, 26 of 41 feasibility reports they received from November 1986 when the 1986 act was enacted through October 1989 were sent to OMB with a positive recom- mendation. Of the 26 reports, 17 were sent to the Congressfor authori- zation after OMB reviews ranging from 1 to 16 months, Six reports had been in review at OMB from 1 to 18 months as of November 1989, and 2 had been rejected. The Deputy for Planning Policy and Legislative Affairs acknowledged that the Corps or the Assistant Secretary have no control over whether OMB meets the 30-day time frame. To avoid delays, the deputy said OMB will be consulted as soon as an issue needing resolution is identified. As of the 3-year period ending in October 1989, mostly before the new pro- cedureswere implemented, OMB met this time frame in 4 of 26 cases.It should be noted that the lack of an OMB review has not prevented the Congressfrom including many project proposals in legislation author- izing construction and in somecasesin appropriations bills. In fact 10 of the 26 proposed projects were already authorized for construction before the reports were sent to OMB. While a proposed project waits for reviews at the Washington level, the Corps often proceedsinto pre-con- struction engineering and design of a project using federal funding from the general investigations appropriations. Page 33 GAO/RCEDQO-188 Water Resources Appendix V CommentsF’romthe Department of Defense DEPARTMENT OF THE ARMY OWCE Or THE AlSlSTANT 8ECReTARY WASHINOTON, OC 1#110-0103 X AU0 I@0 Mr. J. Dexter Peach Assistant Comptroller General Resources, Community, and Economic Development Division Washington, D. c. 20548 Dear Mr. Peach: This is the Department of Defense (DOD) response to the General Accounting Office (GAO) draft report, "WATER RESOURCES: The Corps of Engineers* Revised Review Process for Proposed Civil Works Projects,10 dated June 20, 1990 (GAO Code 140839/OSD case 8386). The Department fully concurs with the GAO findings and recommendation. Specific DOD comments on the recom- mendation are provided in the enclosure. The Department appreciates the opportunity to Comment on the draft report. Sincerely, Enclosure ‘- QEamaWq actiI#Phipi4 Deputyksistantsemtaq (CivilWorks) Page34 GAO/RCELb~188WaterRea0ercea Appendix V Cmmmemti From the Department of Defenee GAO DRAFT REPORT - DATED JUNE 20, 1990 (GAO CODE 140839/OSD CASE 8386) "WATER RESOURCES: THE CORPSOF ENGINEERS' REVISED REVIEW PROCESSFOR PROPOSEDCIVIL WORKSPROJECTS" DEPARTMENTOF DEFENSE COMMENTS * * * * * * * * ON 1.. The GAO recommended that the Secretary of the Army, through the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works, should work with the Director, Office of Management and Budget, to establish a realistic time frame goal for the expedited review of feasibility reports on proposed water resource development projects to be transmitted to the Congress for construction authorization. (p.lO/GAO Draft Report) w . Concur. The Army will provide the Office of Management and Budget several documents sufficiently far in advance of the Army official transmittal of any project report to alert the Office of Management and Budget to the technical and policy issues involved. Thus, the historic review time at the Office of Management and Budget can be reduced. The first document is the Project Guidance Memorandum. Thie document is prepared after the Feasibility Review Conference and is available prior to the District Engineer completing the Feasibility Report. It provides guidance on how the information reviewed at the Feasibility Review Conference must be modified or supplemented in order to produce a sufficient report. The second document is the Washington Level Review Center assessment of the final report. The assessment analyzes the technical and policy issues in the report and provides a basis for the concurrent Washington level review and decision process. Therefore, by the time the Office of Management and Budget receives a report, it will know the issues and the extent of the review. The Army is working with the Office of Management and Budget to reduce the average review time. The Army will provide a progress report by April 1991. Y Page 36 GAO/RCED-90-133 Water Resourcee Appendix VI CommentsFrom the Office of Management * and Budget Note: GAO comments supplementing those in the report text appear at the end of this appendix. EXECUTIVE OFFICE OF THE PRESIDENT OFFICE OF MANAQEMENT AND BIJDQET WASUINGTON, DC. 20603 JUL 20 1990 Mr. James Duffus III Director, Natural Resources Management Issues U.S. General Accounting Office Washington, D.C. 20548 Dear Mr. Duffus: The staff of the Natural Resources Division of the Office of Management and Budget appreciates the opportunity to review the draft General Accounting Office Report entitled "Water Resources: The Corps of Engineers Revised Review Process for Proposed Civil Works Projects," (GAO/RCED90-188, CODE 140839) dated June 20, 1990. Our response is enclosed. Da&d M. Gibbons Deputy ASSOCiate Director for Natural Resources Enclosure Y Page86 Appendix VI timmentr From the OIilce of bnagement and Budget ENCLOSURE OMBResponse to "WATERRESOURCES: The Corps of Engineers Revised Review Process for Proposed Civil Works Projects," dated June 20, 1990. QAO RBCOMMEWDATIOW GAO recommends that OMB and the Assistant Secretary of the Army agree on a more realistic goal than 30 days. Also, GAO cited a 1989 recommendation that OMBshould either increase or supplement its resources. OMB REISPONSB See comment 1I Executive Order 12322. A copy should be included in the report. See comment 2. OMB review schedule. Because of competing priorities in OMBand in the Natural Resources Division, we do not agree with the 300day period and are reluctant to agree to any period. Additional staff for the Water Resources Branch is not an OMB priority. See comment 3. Elaboration of OMB's orocess. As GAO indicates, we do not approve a report until we are "comfortable" with it, but our procass is not as subjective or arbitrary as it sounds. Because the results of OMB's review can have National implications by establishing precedents for the Corps of Engineers, the Department of the Interior's Bureau of Reclamation, and the Department of Agriculture's soil Conservation Service whose projects OMB also reviews under Executive Order 12322, OMB's clearance of reports involves a very thorough peer review based on the following policy and technical criteria: 0 Policy criteria emphasize delimiting Federal and non- Federal responsibilities according to Administration priorities: - Ensure that project outputs represent established Federal interests (e.g., urban flood control in lieu of drainage and erosion control, commercial navigation in lieu of land developments), or any new Administration priorities (e.g., mitigation of environmental effects of existing projects). - Ensure that justifications of projects with priority output8 are based on National needs (projects are justified in terms of damages avoided or decreases in cost and are not merely regional transfers: priority purposes are justified incrementally and not predominately on the basis of benefits from non- priority purposes -- i.e., recreation). Page37 GAO/~188WaterReaources Appendix VI CanmentaF'romtheOfflceofManagement andBudget - Ensure that cost sharing is consistent with P.L. 99-662 and other applicable legislation. - Ensure that cost-ceilings are not violated. - Avoidance of windfall benefits accruing to single beneficiaries. - Emphasize protection of existing property and activities rather than promoting land development. - Ensure that environmental issues are satisfactorily addressed. o Technical criteria primarily based on the Principles and Guidelines: - Ensure that projects are formulated in accordance with established planning and design criteria (e.g., broad range of alternatives are considered and separable elements are incrementally justified). - Ensure that projects to be cost shared are in fact the most cost effective (National Economic Development maximizing plan). - Ensure that proposals are evaluated in terms of current and appropriate data (e.g., economic and demographic projections). - Ensure that benefits are derived by appropriate methodology and appropriately measured and accounted. - Ensure that plans have been developed in accordance with NEPA and other appropriate legislation (e.g., Fish and Wildlife Coordination and Endangered Species Acts). General Comments on the OMBReview Process: See comment 4. 0 GAO indicates that OMBnormally does not go into technical detail. Sometimes, application of technical criteria does, in fact, catch problems which take time to be resolved. Often, OMB's technical check has encouraged the Corps to be more careful in preparation of other reports. See comment 5. o The number of rejected projects is not a measure of the quality control provided by our review process. Often, we defer formal judgment until our informally communicated concerns are satisfactorily addressed. See comment 5. o The time taken on a particular project may reflect an Y examination of a policy issue that may relate to an entire class of projects. Page30 GAO/RCED-90488 WsterReeom Appendix VI Commenta From the Of!lce of Management and Budget See comment 5. OMBhas contributed to acceleration of review nrocess. Army’s acceleration of the review process is a net gain independent of the time it takes for OMB to discharge its responsibilities. Moreover, the President's budget supports the policy of seamless funding. Seamless funding is the automatic initiation of the preconstruction, engineering, and design phase prior to transmission of the feasibility report to Congress for authorization. This seamless funding responds to project sponsors~ concerns for the timeliness of the review process by eliminating a sometimes lengthy gap caused by a delay in appropriations. See comment 6. Recent OMBtrack record. Within manpower constraints, we have accelerated reviews and put our review priority on projects being proposed for authorization or as new construction starts. 0 Between July of 1988 and July 1989, OMB received 24 reports from Army. The average time to review 18 reports was 8 months. No reports were reviewed within 30 days. o Between July 1989 and July 1990, OMBused an average time of 4 months to review 13 of the 25 reports it received from Army. One report was reviewed within 30 days. o The improvement in average report review time reflects increased responsiveness on priority projects. The decrease in reviews completed reflects competing demands on staff. See comment 7 Potential for future improvements. OMBWill continue its effort to accelerate reviews and be responsive to Army priorities. o For each proposed project, Army will provide OMBwith the Project Guidance Memorandum (prepared after the feasibility Review Conference) and the final Washington bevel Review Center Assessment (prepared at the end of the concurrent Washington Review). This should familiarize OMBpersonnel with proposed projects and help to avoid raising technical issues already satisfactorily addressed. As we gain experience and become more confident of the results of the new review process, OMBwill be able to devote less time to technical issues and concentrate on policy issues. Elimination of the work on technical issues should accelerate the review time and increase the number of reports that OMBcan process. Page 39 GAO/RCED-90-183 Water Resources L Appendix VI Commenti From the Of&e of Management and Budget The following are GAO'S comments on the OMB letter dated July 20, 1990. GAO Comments 2. This comment and our responseare summarized in the letter on pages 8-9. 3. In this section, OMB elaborates on information provided to us during our review as presented in app. IV. While OMB reiterates and supple- ments information we reported, we believe our appendix as written accurately represents OMB'S processand criteria. 4. The view that OMB normally doesnot apply technical criteria in its review was expressedby a DOD official as reported on page 32 of app. IV. On page 31 of app. IV, we report that technical criteria are among the standards that OMB may use. 6. We do not take issue with these OMB statements in our report and consider them a further elaboration of OMB views that doesnot require a revision of the report. 6. Our analysis of the timeliness of OMB reviews was basedon a 3-year period ending in October 1989. OMB used a 2-year period ending in July 1990 that involves a different set of reports. Rather than calculating averages,we reported the range of review times and the number of reports OMB reviewed within 30 days. 7. This new procedure is summarized on page 8 of the letter. Page 40 GAO/RCEDBO-188 Water Besuurcee Appendix VII Major Contributors to This Report Leo E. Ganster, Assistant Director Resources, John P. Murphy, Assignment Manager Community, and John P. Scott, Evaluator-in-Charge Economic Gerald C. Allen, Evaluator Development Division, Anu K. Mittal, Evaluator Washington, DC. Y (140@8@) Page 41 GAO/RCED-BO-1@3 Water ltetm-
Water Resources: The Corps of Engineers' Revised Review Process for Proposed Civil Works Projects
Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1990-09-13.
Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)