Politics & Policy

It’s Raining Pork

Engineering disaster -- and solutions.

Drowning in Pork

In Louisiana, a state-commissioned report on Hurricane Katrina released Wednesday said that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers bears ultimate responsibility for failing to prevent the flooding of New Orleans. The report is so unequivocal about blaming the Corps that one must ask what the agency was doing when it should have been protecting New Orleans from a catastrophic flood. The answer is sadly illustrative of the Corps’ recent history. It was preoccupied with pork.

The report identified a staggering pattern of incompetence and neglect by the Corps that left New Orleans unprepared for Katrina’s storm surge. The New Orleans Times-Picayune broke the news to its readers thusly:

In a sweeping indictment of corps stewardship, the report alleges that agency supervisors ignored increases in the threat level for their project, knowingly built levees and floodwalls lower than congressionally mandated, failed to detect or ignored glaring errors during the review process, underestimated the impact of the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet on the city’s defenses, and failed to properly maintain the system.

So what were the Corps’ priorities when it should have been identifying and fixing these problems? For starters, it was working with Louisiana’s congressional delegation to rationalize the construction of a new $764 million lock for the Industrial Canal, despite decreasing barge traffic and vigorous protests from community groups. It was also busy redoing a cost-benefit analysis on a $194 million dredging project that a previous analysis had already failed to justify. According the Washington Post’s Michael Grunwald, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D., La.) slipped the do-over into an emergency supplemental for the war in Iraq.

Here it is worth noting that House Democrats have added $1.3 billion for the Corps to the current war supplemental in an attempt to get Louisiana Republicans to break ranks when the unpopular bill comes to a vote on Friday. Providing funding for Corps flood-control projects in New Orleans would be laudable if not for the fact that the Corps hasn’t figured out how it will spend the billions of Katrina-relief dollars already at its disposal. In a statement opposing the measure, the White House argued: “These funds are unnecessary because the Administration proposed… to allow the Corps to reallocate $1.3 billion of previously appropriated emergency funding to address these needs. The Administration plans to consider the need for additional funding once the Corps completes its revised cost estimates for all planned work this summer.”

What’s more, the state-commissioned report released Wednesday didn’t just fault the Corps for neglecting its flood-prevention duties prior to Katrina. It found that the Corps is still making to make the same mistakes:

 Today, the [U.S. Army Corps of Engineers] seeks funds to rebuild flood defenses for a ruined city that will offer a level of protection originally conceived in the late 1950s. The evolution of the Standard Project Hurricane shows that this level of protection was known to be inadequate by at least the early 1970s. Since Katrina, elements of the 1950s era plan that were not built… have been retrieved from mothballs, and are now being included in virtually all restoration plans.  

In the wake of this report, adding billions to the Corps’ flood-control budget is like leaving unsupervised children with Michael Jackson: It’s just a bad idea, and yet another reason why the president should stick by his promise to veto the latest war supplemental if it makes it out of Congress in its current form.

Boise Blogger Exposes City Official’s Taxpayer-Funded Club Membership

Last week I asked readers to write in with tips about wasteful spending at the state and local level, and I received a great one about a city official in Boise, Idaho who got caught living large at the taxpayers’ expense. After receiving a tip of his own, Boise blogger Dave Frazier made an open-records request and discovered that Boise’s city-development corporation was using tax dollars to pay for its executive director’s membership and fees at an exclusive private club. Local media followed up on the story, and within days the corporation’s board had announced that it would stop paying its director’s dues, thus saving Boise taxpayers around $4,000 a year.

It doesn’t sound like much, but Frazier writes on his blog that drawing attention to this issue is part of a larger push for more transparency and accountability from the agency’s board. More importantly, it shows how just one committed taxpayer using nothing more than public-records requests and the Internet can actually start to demand such things from his government.


The Democrats’ budget resolution reveals that they’re plotting the biggest tax increase in American history. Check the Wasteland next week to read all about the waste they plan to spend it on. In the meantime, e-mail information on wasteful spending, corrupt practices, or ridiculous regulations to wastelandnro@gmail.com.  


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