With the demise of the earmark in Congress a number of years ago, there emerged a different sort of funding approach, one in which the agency itself gets to determine which projects gets funded and how much should be allocated. This approach, which results in a master list of projects per state and by type of funding, (General Investigations, Construction, Operations, and Maintenance, so), known as the Work Plan is the Corps’ equivalent of the earmark process, and is developed at the Corps’ District level based on projects’ schedules and need, as well as Congress’ policy direction. The list is then sent up through the Corps’ Division level for review and prioritization, then sent to Headquarters for review, revisions, and approval. After Headquarters reviews the Work Plan, it then moves to ASA’s office, then to OMB for review and consideration before being released to Congress and the public. Each of these levels, as well as, ASA and OMB gets the opportunity to review, revise, eliminate, or add projects and funding.
Over the last several years, Congress, while prohibiting itself from earmarking, has had the Appropriations Committees weigh in to provide direction to the Corps on how the appropriated funds should be spent. Over the last year in particular, Congress provided clear and fairly specific direction, especially with regard to how those funds beyond the budgeted levels should be spent. Matters such as how many new construction and study starts, how much funding for each Corps’ mission area should be spent, when the Corps needs to submit the Work Plan and the underlying justification and criteria used in determining which project should be funded are all a part of Congress’ very focused and directive language to the Corps of the use of the funds. Another matter that was carefully discussed in the FY16 Energy and Water Development Committee Report was that it was Congress’ intent for all of the funds to be allocated, and not to leave large sums unallocated to be used when and how the Corps determined. This was in reaction to the Corps FY15 Work Plan, when for many months, the Corps left tens of millions in unallocated funds for later use, while projects which could have used the funds sat unfunded.
The Corps was given 60 days from the enactment of the Omnibus Appropriations Bill in mid-December, to release the FY16 Work Plan in accordance with Congress’ directives.