As USACE has restructured its planning process, it also has developed new policies to oversee the agency’s expertise. One of these policies is the planner certification program. Anyone involved in USACE’s Community of Practice for planning must have formal certification that he or she is qualified to execute these tasks. Individuals must complete a core curriculum to attain the certification. “In this way, we improve planning expertise and knowledge within the Corps,” Stockton said. There are other efforts to increase and reinforce interdisciplinary soft and technical expertise across the workforce.
More Efficient Budgeting
The Civil Works Directorate has also moved to watershed-informed budgeting, which is transforming the process of allocating funds to projects. Instead of a more political process including earmarks, USACE is employing a bottom-up approach in which experts prioritize investments within a particular region.
“It’s an opportunity for us to develop a vision of where that watershed should move in the future,” Stockton said. That vision includes input from state and local stakeholders as well as federal officials. It is a holistic approach to collectively seize opportunities, and address challenges and issues. “In this way, we can better integrate our activities with what others are doing in that watershed,” he said.
Congress and the White House also are beginning to provide more funding for these operations. For fiscal year 2014, USACE received $5.4 billion, a significant increase from the prior year. As part of the appropriation legislation, USACE was directed by Congress to allocate $777 million to individual projects, programs, and studies, and to present the work plans to Congress within 45 days of the appropriation becoming law. Congress provided general categories for these funds, including $387.2 million for navigation, $254.5 million for flood risk management, and $135.5 million for other authorized projects.
Stockton said USACE has approached this increased funding as a way to support its watershed-based budgeting goals. “Rather than look at projects in isolation, we’re conducting an integrated approach,” he said.
Yet with responsibility for 926 harbors, 12,000 miles of commercial inland waterways, 13,000 miles of commercial deep draft and coastal waterways, 707 dams, more than 14,500 miles of levees, and dozens of ecosystem restoration projects, federal funding still falls far short of the need to fully modernize the nation’s infrastructure.