In baseball, “building the bench” means to fill out a team with a roster of good hitters: guys who can swing the bat, make contact, and score runs. Maj. Gen. Merdith W.B. “Bo” Temple, USACE’s deputy commanding general for Civil and Emergency Operations, uses the same term to describe some of the major benefits to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009.
With $4.6 billion of ARRA funding for civil works projects and between $2 billion and $2.5 billion in ARRA funding for the military programs mission approved in addition to appropriations for projects previously funded for fiscal 2009, the Corps has an historic workload and historic opportunities.
“The civil works program has gotten much larger over a very short period as a result of ARRA funding,” Temple affirmed. “But that provides us with opportunities. First, we can do our part to help the economy and employment situation. Second, it gives us the opportunity to demonstrate that if we are fully funded, we can deliver projects on time at or below cost at requisite quality. Last, it gives us the opportunity to acquire additional human capital to take us beyond this work into the future – ‘to build the bench.’”
As manager of the Army’s Civil Works Program, Temple, aided by his staff, took on the considerable challenge of rapidly identifying and selecting civil works projects to which ARRA funding will be applied. After ARRA was signed into law on Feb. 17, 2009, the Corps was able to release a list of approved projects in late April including work on operation and maintenance (O&M) projects, construction projects, projects associated with the Mississippi River and Tributaries, Formerly Utilized Sites Remedial Action Program (FUSRAP) projects, and investigations (studies). The awarding of contracts for the increased workload is currently under way.
It’s a huge challenge that USACE is facing with a positive outlook and a determination to demonstrate the Corps’ proficiency. We chatted with Temple about how ARRA civil works projects were chosen, how funds will be obligated, how the Corps is coping with the increased workload, and the meaning of ARRA to USACE.
Serving the Nation and the Armed Forces: How did you tackle the identification of ARRA civil works projects in such a short time?
Maj. Gen. Merdith W.B. “Bo” Temple: We have a list of work we sometimes refer to as backlog work on the maintenance side that we keep current. There are also construction authorizations that we have based on our coordination with the administration and Congress that have a relatively high priority for various reasons. These are projects that we know we could execute if given additional authorization and funding. We didn’t start from scratch. That said, there were a number of criteria that the initial guidance gave us including the requirement for projects that were “shovel ready.” These were projects that could be awarded relatively quickly so that we could help achieve the administration’s goal of improving employment and aiding the economy.
We went about that task based on the projects we had on our list and any others that may have come to light over the last fiscal year to meet those basic criteria. As the administration gained experience with input that they were getting from all of the federal agencies – not just ours – on what types of projects we thought best fit their criteria, we got additional guidance. That pertained to ensuring that projects on the O&M side were focused on critical infrastructure needs first, then were followed in descending order by other requirements. On the construction side, the guidance ensured that the projects picked met the usual budgeting criteria that we use from year to year. By applying this guidance, we went through several iterations of the list. I don’t mean to imply that they were major changes, but we did accommodate evolving guidance. We had hoped to begin awarding projects as early as the end of March, but because we had to go through some changes to the list, it was the middle of May before we were able to begin.
What kinds of projects are included?
We have $2.1 billion in O&M, about $2 billion for construction, $375 million for the Mississippi River and Tributaries, $100 million for FUSRAP, and $25 million for the planning effort we had for the ARRA work. On top of that, the administration realized that additional projects would likely require additional regulatory work, not only for our projects but for other agencies’ projects. So they [the administration] gave us an additional $25 million to support our regulatory function.
That’s the total $4.6 billion but I do have a caveat: the Corps originally expressed a $12 billion capability but at the end, $4.6 billion is what we got.
What will ARRA funding allow the Corps of Engineers to achieve?
The stimulus package obviously gives us an opportunity to contribute to the recovery of the economy and hopefully increase employment. We estimate that with full obligation of all the dollars that we’ve been given under ARRA, we could generate as many as 57,000 direct construction jobs and an additional 54,000 indirect or support jobs, supporting construction and related businesses.
Internally, it gives us an opportunity to address some badly needed maintenance requirements. An example of that is the Bluestone Dam near Huntington, W.Va., which I just returned from. The dam requires upgrades in order to change its dam safety status to an improved state. That’s just one example of many where ARRA money’s being used to address long-term maintenance requirements or near-term safety requirements. Public safety was the No. 1 criteria in all of our decisions.