Almost one year after Hurricane Katrina flooded New Orleans, Lt. Gen. Carl A. Strock, commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, released a plan to guide the Corps into taking a more comprehensive, systems-oriented approach to setting priorities for future work and for guiding its processes and planning.

The general says the "12 Actions for Change" plan was developed in response to analysis of the performance of the flood defenses of New Orleans during hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and of the Corps responsibilities for failures in that system, which he says point to a need to transform the way the Corps operates. "We will use the 12 Actions to guide our ongoing and future work, and to ensure we have an organization that is adaptable, flexible and responsive to the needs of the nation," says Strock.

Strock recently announced his plans to leave the Corps for personal reasons but will remain until a replacement is selected.

According to the directive, the Corps will emphasize risk-based planning in evaluating future projects. It also calls for employing a "dynamic independent review" process on projects of significant economic or social impact from the planning stage, through project life, to ensure "that we looked at the right things in the right ways and got the right answers." He cited the Interagency Performance Evaluation Task Force's review of the performance of the flood defenses of New Orleans during Katrina and Rita as a good example of the kind of independent review process the plan calls upon the Corps to apply.

In the New Orleans investigation, the Corps-sponsored IPET team of experts developed an approach to the study and asked the American Society of Civil Engineers to critique the plan. Then, in another step, the Corps adjusted the inquiry to respond to ASCE's suggestions and shared its conclusions with the ASCE for independent review as they were developed.

"It was a dynamic process that is a bit different from normal review, where you take a design to its fullest extent and submit it for review in case you missed anything," Strock said.

"This lets everybody in the Corps know that independent review is necessary," he says. However, the review will extend beyond engineering issues and should consider social and environmental consequences of project and policy decisions as well. He also says the ASCE will not necessarily be a party in the process.

Under the plan, the Corps would design and build more robust engineered systems with full stakeholder participation. The plan calls for applying an integrated, comprehensive and systems-based approach and risk-based concepts. It also calls for continuously reassessing and updating policy for program development, planning guidance, design and construction standards and for employing dynamic independent review and adaptive planning and engineering systems.

The plan also calls for effective for effective and transparent communication with the public, and within the Corps, about risk. And it calls upon the Corps to "improve the state of the art and the Corps' dedication to a competent, capable workforce on a continuing basis."