Corps Bosses Busted!
By Reggie McLeod

A high-ranking officer in the Army Corps of Engineers falsified pivotal economic information in the Corps’ Navigation Study to get the agency a billion-dollar project to expand locks on the Mississippi River, according to Army investigators.

They also accused two higher-ranking officers of creating an atmosphere within the Corps that led to falsifying economic data and preferential treatment of the shipping industry.

The investigation also accused Corps higher-ups of instituting a plan to expand the agency’s budget with projects that it is responsible for judging the merits of.

The Office of Special Counsel, a federal agency that represents federal employees who claim misconduct by their bosses, released the findings December 6th at a press conference in Washington, D.C.

Last February, Corps economist Donald C. Sweeney filed a whistle-blower suit with the Office of Special Counsel, accusing Corps higher-ups of pressuring him and others working on the Upper Mississippi River-Illinois Waterway System Feasibility Study (Navigation Study) to change the results of their research. Sweeney was in charge of the economic part of the study from its beginnings in 1993 until he was removed in 1998, after the workgroup he headed found that “the cost of such a large-scale construction project [expanding locks] far outweighed the benefits.” He claimed he was removed because he refused to change the data.

Investigators found that Maj. Gen. Russell Fuhrman, director of civil works, and Maj. Gen. Phillip Anderson, former Mississippi Valley Division commander, “created a climate within the Corps that led to the manipulation of the cost-benefit analysis.” They found that Col. James Mudd (now retired), who commanded the Rock Island District, “directed a specific value for a key parameter (the N-value) when he knew it was mathematically flawed and contrary to the recommendations of Corps economists.”

The investigators said that the eagerness of agency higher-ups to please shipping interests damaged morale. “In conclusion, the report stated that the overall impression conveyed by testimony of Corps employees was that ‘some of them had no confidence in the integrity of the Corps’ study process,’” according to Elaine Kaplan of the Office of Special Counsel.

Golden Whistleblower

Donald Sweeney must feel pretty good these days. After losing his position as a head of the economic part of the Upper Mississippi River-Illinois Waterway System Feasibility Study because the Corps of Engineers economist refused to fudge the math, Sweeney blew the whistle on the Corps. Now he’s got a golden whistle and Army investigators have backed him up.
The taxpayer watchdog group taxpayers for common sense (TCS) awarded Sweeney its first-ever Golden Whistle Award to honor his courage in exposing the Corps’ attempt to manipulate the study to support a billion-dollar project to expand the lock and dam system on the Upper Mississippi River and Illinois Waterway.
Steve Ellis, water resources director for TCS, praised Sweeney, “This award is a billion-dollar thank you on behalf of American Taxpayers.”

“The report, as described above, substantiated Dr. Sweeney’s essential allegation: that the feasibility study was unlawfully manipulated.”

Kaplan’s report noted that the Department of Defense is also required to explain what it will do to remedy the conditions that caused the problems and whether disciplinary action will be taken.

The report also notes that the National Academy of Sciences, which is evaluating the study, asked to extend its November 30th deadline.

The Secretary of the Army directed Lt. Gen. Robert B. Flowers, the chief of engineers, to restore any rights, benefits or privileges lost by Sweeney since he was removed from the study.

The report was forwarded to the president and the chairmen of the House and Senate armed services committees.

What’s Next?

Several taxpayer and environmental groups characterize the Corps as a major conduit of pork barrel projects and corporate welfare, which provides it with protection from powerful politicians and corporations. The Army’s criticism of close ties between the Corps and shipping interests doesn’t specifically mention MARC 2000, the shipping industry’s lobbying organization, or the two largest grain exporters, Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland.

The Army investigation sketches out how a small group of men tried to sabotage a $57 million project, and seriously damaged the morale of a large agency in the process. It will be interesting to see whether these politically connected officers will be held accountable.

It’s also interesting to note that the study and its recommendations have gotten so far without considering any environmental costs or producing an Environmental Impact Statement. This last part of the study has been postponed several times, and is currently scheduled for release and review this winter. The Corps has pushed ahead plans to expand five to seven locks without weighing environmental costs.

The actual growth of barge traffic on the Upper Mississippi was slower in the 1990s than the study originally predicted. New, lower traffic projections are being incorporated into the study. The study did not make a cost-benefit analysis of the existing, taxpayer-subsidized system. The Navigation Study is currently scheduled to be completed in July 2002.

Reggie McLeod is editor and publisher of Big River, an independent, monthly newsletter about the Upper Mississippi River: 800-303-8201.