A little more than three months into his tour as the 53rd U.S. Army Chief of Engineers and Commanding General of the Corps of Engineers, Lt. Gen. Thomas P. Bostick is analyzing what he has learned from a round of site visits and assessments of the state of the Corps. He sat down with ENR recently to talk about his findings and the challenges ahead.
Bostick, who assumed his new post on May 22, recently returned from Louisiana, where he surveyed areas hit by Hurricane Isaac. He says the $14.6-billion Hurricane Storm Damage Risk Reduction System the Corps built around the city of New Orleans after 2005's Hurricane Katrina performed "wonderfully well." But he adds that there is a "stark contrast" between areas inside the protective system and areas without, such as Plaquemines Parish, where non-federal levees overtopped, flooding several communities. Bostick says local and national leaders need to decide whether those communities will continue to build levees such as those overtopped or whether there will be federal involvement to provide further support to the region.
Bostick's military career began at West Point, from which he graduated in 1978. Within the Corps, he was director of military programs and commander of its Gulf Region Division in Iraq. Outside the Corps, he was the deputy director of operations of the National Military Command Center in the period that included Sept. 11, 2001.
Bostick, 56, says he has three main priorities in his new job as the chief of engineers. The first is to ensure the engineers perform as part of the Army at war. "We've got a military focus," he notes. "We need to defend and protect our nation. We are part of the military structure."
But he acknowledges that the pressure of proposed cuts to the defense budget—including a planned Army drawdown to 490,000 from 570,000 by the end of fiscal 2017, while the U.S. is still at war and a sluggish economy discourages many from voluntarily leaving the service— sets an unprecedented challenge for the Army and the Corps.
Bostick's second priority is the Corps' civil- works mission. He says, "We're looking at transforming our planning process. For feasibility studies, we're looking at a '3 by 3 by 3' approach"—no more than three years, $3 million and three levels of review—and a document of no more than about 100 pages that would fit in a 3-in. binder.
Bostick also wants to refine budget planning to include more of a watershed-wide approach to civil works.
In project delivery, Corps civil-works managers have learned from military programs, including work on base realignment and closures, about the value of design-build and bringing contractors in early in a project's schedule. Those tools proved effective during the post-Katrina reconstruction in the New Orleans area.
Bostick says his third focus is "strategic process," which he notes is built on workforce development and leadership. "Everything begins and ends with people," says Bostick, who was the Army's deputy chief of staff for personnel before assuming command of the Corps. He's bullish on developing and managing talent, which is widely acknowledged as one of the military's areas of excellence.
Bostick says, "It's too early for me to say" whether the drawdown to a smaller military workforce and other trends will lead to a reduction in the number of Corps districts or divisions, but he says if budget sequestration takes effect, the impact would be "devastating" to the Army (see story, p. 9).