As Corps of Engineers officials begin their pitch on Capitol Hill for a $4.5-billion fiscal 2006 civil works budgetdown $50 million from 2005they will ask lawmakers to buy into a new "performance-based" ranking system for construction projects. Its unclear how Congress will react. Legislators havent been shy about inserting their own priorities into Corps spending bills.
The new yardstick is a response to tight funding and a backlog of unfinished Corps projects estimated at $11 billion, or more. The plan focuses mainly on a multi-year projects ratio of its remaining benefits to costs. To reach the top category, a project needs at least a 3.0 benefit-cost score, says John Paul Woodley, assistant Army secretary for civil works.
Bush Administration's National Priority Projects
Fiscal 2006 Request
|Everglades restoration program/Fla.|| |
|Columbia River Basin fish recovery/Ore., Wash., Idaho|| |
|New York-New Jersey Harbor dredging|| |
|Olmsted Locks and Dam/ Ill., Ky.|| |
|Missouri River fish, wildlife recovery/Iowa, Neb., Kan., Mo.|| |
|Oakland Harbor dredging/Calif.|| |
|Upper Mississippi River environmental restoration/ Ill., Iowa, Minn., Mo., Wis.|| |
|New Orleans West Bank flood control|| |
|Sims Bayou flood control/ Houston, Texas|| |
SOURCES: Corps of Engineers, Office of Management
The top echelon for 2006 includes 61 projects, each of which could get 80% of the maximum amount it could spend in the fiscal year. Nine of the items are ones the Bush administration deems "national projects" (table). They include dredging, navigation and flood control jobs with high grades, plus environmental projects whose evaluation was "more subjective," Woodley says, adding that they address a priority area, such as the Everglades, or a goal, such as species preservation. Also among the 61 are 14 dam safety projects.
"The goal of this was to try and move the best projects along at efficient or even optimal rates,"says Pete Luisa, the Corps chief of civil works program development. He says that will accelerate completion, "and so we realize benefits sooner than under the old approach." In the past, a few priority jobs would get enough "to make substantial progress," Woodley says. Another 100 would get enough to continue but completion dates would be pushed "into the distant future," he adds.
The new scorecard has a downside. For 35 or so low-rated projects, the Corps would finish pending contracts or suspend work, whichever is less costly.
"Were very supportive of the idea of a performance-based budgeting for the Corps," says one industry source. Adds National Waterways Conference President Worth Hager: "I applaud the Corps for trying
to figure out what the actual value of the project is." But she says, "We would have hoped that...would have led to more funding."
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In 2003, the House approved permanent repeal, but the Senate did not. Heidi Blumenthal, Associated General Contractors congressional relations director for tax and fiscal affairs, is optimistic about repeals chances. The Senate will be the battleground and Blumenthal expects a harder fight this year. She claims there are 60 Senate votes for repeal, the minimum to block filibusters. But she says that the small group of pro-repeal Democrats will face pressure to switch sides.Nuclear: Westing-house Gets Licenses For China Job
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