Mike Parker, the assistant secretary of the Army for civil works, quit suddenly on March 6, after just five months in his post. Outsiders say the White House pressed Parker to leave after he didn't strongly defend the Bush administration budget for the Corps of Engineers, which his office oversees. Lt. Col. Catherine Abbott, a Dept. of Defense spokesperson, said Parker wasn't asked to resign. Parker's office referred questions to Army public affairs.
President Bush proposed cutting the Corps budget 7%, to $4.3 billion in 2003. The reduction would be sharper for the Corps construction account: Bush proposed $1.4 billion for that program, down 16% from the 2002 appropriation. The budget has no money for new construction starts.
At a Sept. 26 Senate Budget Committee hearing, Parker said he had asked OMB for $6.4 billion for the Corps in 2003, though he said he knew OMB wouldn't agree to that level. He also said that when he was in the House, where he was on the Appropriations Committee, he "never had those warm, fuzzy feelings" toward the Office of Management and Budget. He added, "I still don't have those warm, fuzzy feelings."
Senate Budget panel Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) and the committee's top Republican, Pete Domenici of New Mexico, criticized Bush's cuts for the Corps, a signal that Congress will seek to add back at least some of the funds the President proposes to trim. Domenici also is the ranking Republican on the energy and water appropriations subcommittee, which has jurisdiction over annual Corps spending.
Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) said, "Mike Parker told the truth that the Corps of Engineers budget, as proposed, is insufficient. However, the administration felt that Mike's comments at this point in the process were inappropriate. This is a regrettable situation for all parties concerned...."
Corps critics aren't sorry to see Parker go. Scott Faber, a water resources specialist with Environmental Defense, says, "President Bush has boldly ousted Mike Parker because of his failure to support the President's agenda." Faber says the White House decision "is strong evidence that the President is willing to use all of his tools, including the veto, if the Congress doesn't pass a fiscally responsible energy and water [appropriations] bill."