In late June, President Trump unveiled his administration’s plan to reorganize the federal government.  The proposed shakeup is entitled “Delivering Government Solutions in the 21st Century: Reform Plan and Reorganization Recommendations.”  On page 15 of the proposal you will find:  “Move the Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) Civil Works out of the Department of Defense (DOD) to the Department of Transportation (DOT) and Department of the Interior (DOI).”  This proposal has left many people asking questions, such as how would it work?  Would it be better?  Does Congress need to approve it?  And how is this different than every other proposal made in the past?  Indeed, during a recent Senate hearing, Senators voiced inquiries about the Department of Defense’s views:

  • “I also would like the Department of Defense’s view on picking up the Corps of Engineers and dropping it in various parts of the United States government.” Sen. Angus King, (Maine-Independent).
  • “Where is DoD on some of the Corps issues?”  Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska).

Well, now we know what the Department of Defense thinks, because the Chief of Engineers has issued a memorandum sharing the view of the Secretary of Defense which is making its way through the internet from multiple sources.  The memo takes the topic seriously, lays out some steps for how the subject will be approached, and encourages the existing team to focus on the mission and not get distracted:

>    As all of you may be aware, the Administration has outlined a number of reforms within the US Government, including the movement of our Civil Works program outside of USACE.
>    I want to update you on the latest activity regarding this effort.  Some of you may have seen by now… the Secretary of Defense on July 30, 2018, approved a Secretary of the Army memorandum identifying SPECIFIC ACTIONS the Army will take in support of the Administration’s proposed reorganization of USACE’s Civil Works Program. The memo states that the Army will:
>    * convene a team to commence planning for the reorganization,
>    * engage with the Departments of Interior and Transportation to prepare for the transfer of functions and responsibilities,
>    * work with OMB to ensure DOD equities are addressed in the final transfer order, and
>    * conduct an external review to assess how USACE can be more effective and efficient after the reorganization.
>    As with any proposed change of this type, new legislation will be required.
>    In accordance with the Secretary’s memorandum, we have begun assembling a team that will coordinate these actions for the U.S. Army and the Nation.  While these efforts are underway, I encourage you to remain FOCUSED on DELIVERING THE PROGRAM!  At the same time, we have identified over 100 initiatives we are taking to REVOLUTIONIZE the Corps, so we can be more effective and efficient.  We have a tremendous workload and it’s only through your disciplined attention to your work that we will succeed.  Each of you are an ESSENTIAL MEMBER of this team and a critical player in our ability to DELIVER INFRASTRUCTURE TO THE NATION and ENERGIZE the ECONOMY!  Thank you for all you do!
>                                    V/r LTG TODD T. SEMONITE
> LTG Todd T. Semonite
> 54th Chief of Engineers
> Commanding General, USACE

The Memo certainly comports to our understanding that legislation would be required.  The United State Code is replete with obligations of the Army Corps of Engineers that are assigned to the Secretary of Defense.  And of course, the Federal budget assigns money for this mission to USACE as well.

As to what a successful reorganization might look like?  Our money would be that the navigation mission would go to the Department of Transportation, in light of the link to transporting commerce.  Likewise, we would bet that dams would move to the Bureau of Reclamation within the Department of Interior, where that expertise lies.  Similarly, ecosystem restoration could move to Bureau of Land Management or the Fish and Wildlife Service within Interior.  But the levee portion of flood risk reduction doesn’t seem to have a logical home.  We will have to wait to see a more detailed proposal.

So will this happen?  We are not betting that it will happen in the short term.  But we think that the discussion can be good, requiring that we all sharpen our pencils on how USACE’s mission can continue to be made more efficient, no matter who is implementing it.