Indulge me for a moment by imagining that you’re preparing for the trip of a lifetime. As you dutifully click through your packing checklist, you also take the time to learn a few key foreign language words and phrases for the countries that you’ll be visiting. Experience has proven that knowing simple greetings and pleasantries in another language not only elevates your travel adventures but can also save the day if your expertly planned travel itinerary hits a roadblock. The same can be said for working with the US Army Corps of Engineers (Corps). While visiting the Galveston District of the Corps may not be as high on your bucket list as a trip to Cinque Terra, knowing how to speak the language is nonetheless essential. Don’t worry, I’m here to serve as your non-official Corps language coach.
The first thing to recognize about the Corps is that they are a military agency through and through. Non-federal sponsors often forget (or overlook) this fact as the Corps’ roughly 32,000-person workforce is primarily composed of civilians, not members of the armed services. However, the Corps’ military origins are hard to ignore as you learn to speak the language so let’s dive in with your first lesson.
Whether it’s the district, division or headquarters levels, the following words and phrases will help you in conducting meetings with the Corps.
BLUF: No, they’re not calling your bluff, they’re asking you to start with your Bottom Line Up Front. This means, cut to the chase and clearly state the problem that you’re looking to solve. Corps documents tend to be long and dense, so set the stage with your BLUF and then dive into details.
Alibi: The first time I heard “any alibis” used during a Corps meeting I was caught completely off guard. Asking for an alibi is equivalent to asking whether there are any final issues to discuss before closing out a meeting. Now that I know the context, I can’t help but use it myself.
Over: Saying the word “over” at the end of a statement lets meeting participants know that you are done speaking. This avoids having attendees speak over one another. I have found that using “over” really helps the flow of virtual engagement meetings where some people are participating by video and some are calling in.
On an annual basis, the Corps relies upon the congressional appropriations process to fund authorized civil works projects and programs. The development of this budget has multiple moving parts. Here are some Corps budget terms of art.
PBUD: This is shorthand for the President’s annual budget request. There are many steps in the annual budget process so if someone says pea-bud they’re referencing the funding levels proposed by the Administration, not funding proposed by Congress.
J-Sheet: The “J” in “J-Sheet” stands for justification. This is the document that supports every Corps project listed in the PBUD. J-Sheets are companion documents to the PBUD, but to the frustration of House and Senate appropriators their release often lags weeks or months behind the release of the budget.
One and done: The Corps has a $96 billion backlog of authorized, but unfunded projects. This backlog can make climbing Mt. Everest look easier than securing funding for a new civil works project (climbing Mt Everest, is in fact, more difficult). The Corps is very mindful of adding new funding commitments to their budget, so anytime you have a project that needs just one year of Corps funding, rather than multiple years of funding, it’s a strong leverage point with Corps budget decision makers. Falling into the “one and done” camp allows the Corps to complete projects and chip away at its backlog.
My favorite (and most overused) phrase
FYSA: For the last year, my husband has been my work-from-home colleague. He has brought to my attention my apparent fondness for repeatedly using the phrase “For Your Situational Awareness.” FYSA is like an FYI, but it’s an FYI that signals a forthcoming action will need to be taken. After reading this article I expect he will tell me “FYSA, you’re saying ‘for your situational awareness’ way too often.”
Drop me a line and let me know when you’re ready for your next lesson on how to speak Corps. Over.
Julie Minerva is a Washington, DC based infrastructure advocate who in good, bad, and uncertain times specializes in Civil Works and all things related to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. You can find her at: firstname.lastname@example.org