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Congressional Research Service's recent report on US Army Corps Of Engineers Water Resource Authorizations
Wednesday, July 16, 2014
Summary of the Report

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers undertakes activities to maintain navigable channels, reduce 
flood and storm damage, and restore aquatic ecosystems. Congress directs the Corps through 
authorizations, appropriations, and oversight of its studies, construction projects, and other 
activities. This report summarizes congressional authorization and appropriations processes for 
the Corps. It also discusses agency activities under general authorities. 

Omnibus Authorization Legislation. Congress generally authorizes numerous Corps activities 
and provides policy direction in an omnibus Corps authorization bill, typically called the Water 
Resources Development Act (WRDA) or more recently the Water Resources Reform and 
Development Act (WRRDA). A WRRDA 2014 (P.L. 113-121) was enacted on June 10, 2014. 
WRDAs historically are omnibus bills including many provisions for site-specific activities. How 
to construct a WRDA bill that complied with House rules related to a moratorium on earmarks 
complicated WRDA consideration in the 112th Congress, but these issues were resolved in the 
113th Congress. 

The Senate passed WRDA 2013, S. 601, on May 15, 2013. S. 601 would authorize Corps 
activities and modifications of existing authorizations that meet certain criteria; the bill includes 
numerous other provisions as it attempts to address issues with the duration and cost of Corps 
projects. The bill also would establish new procedures for using Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund 
monies, in an effort to expand spending above current levels. 


Agency Appropriations. Federal funding for Corps civil works activities is provided in annual 
Energy and Water Development appropriations acts or supplemental appropriations acts. Annual 
Corps civil works appropriations have ranged from $4.5 billion to $5.5 billion during the last 
decade. An increasing share of the agency’s appropriations is used for operations and 
maintenance. Another trend has been increasing emergency supplemental appropriations. From 
1987 to 2013, Congress appropriated $32.2 billion in Corps supplemental funding. Of this 
funding, $30.8 billion came through acts passed between 2003 and 2013. This funding was more 
than half of the Corps’ regular appropriations over the same period ($55 billion). In part because 
of competition for funds and because Corps authorizations outpace appropriations, many 
authorized activities have not received appropriations. There is a backlog of more than 1,000 
authorized studies and construction projects. In recent years, few new studies and new 
construction activities have been in either the President’s budget request or enacted 
appropriations. 

Standard Project Development. The standard process for a Corps project requires two separate 
congressional authorizations—one for investigation and one for construction—as well as 
appropriations. The investigation phase starts with Congress authorizing a study; if it is funded, 
the Corps conducts an initial reconnaissance study followed by a more detailed feasibility study. 
Congressional authorization for construction is based on the feasibility study. For most activities, 
Congress requires a nonfederal sponsor to share some portion of study and construction costs. 
These cost-sharing requirements vary by the type of project. For many project types (e.g., levees), 
nonfederal sponsors are responsible for operation and maintenance once construction is complete. 

Other Corps Activities and Authorities. Although the project development process just 
described is standard, there are exceptions. Congress has granted the Corps some general 
authorities to undertake some studies, small projects, technical assistance, and emergency actions 
such as flood-fighting, repair of damaged levees, and limited drought assistance. Additionally, the 
Corps conducts emergency response actions directed by the Federal Emergency Management 
Agency.




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