Corps falsified river data: feds

Corps falsified river data: feds

By Joe Baker

By Joe Baker

Senior Editor

The Pentagon, last week, issued a blistering report saying top brass of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers rigged data to justify a $1 billion lock and dam expansion on the Mississippi and Illinois rivers.

After a 10-month investigation by the Army’s inspector general, “strong indications” were found that intense pressure was exerted by the top ranks of the Corps and resulted in an agency-wide bias toward favorable evaluations for the river construction projects.

The report stated: “The overall impression conveyed by testimony of corps employees was that some of them had no confidence in the integrity of the corps’ study processes.”

Ron Fournier, a spokesman for the corps, said the agency hadn’t seen the report and had no comment.

The corps is a branch of the Army and has a $4 billion budget for flood control and river navigation construction. It recommends Congress finance its projects after determining which ones have the greatest benefit to taxpayers.

The inspector general began his investigation of the corps after Don Sweeney, a corps economist, advanced allegations that top corps officials had manipulated information to justify lock projects.

The inspector general found that 18 months ago, corps commanders ordered changes to a $54 million analysis of future needs of the Upper Mississippi River navigation system, even though they knew the alterations were mathematically flawed.

Investigators found the intent was to reverse the seven-year study’s preliminary determination that the cost of lengthening seven locks on the Illinois and Mississippi rivers would far outweigh the benefits.

The report also states that politically connected shipping and agribusiness companies, who want the lock projects to speed river passages, were given preferential entree to the process, even being assigned certain economic benefit calculations to be included in the study.

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Investigators said the behavior of top corps officials was motivated by a desire to increase the agency’s construction budget and a tendency to treat barge companies as customers.

Those things, “…combined to create an atmosphere where objectivity in its analyses was placed in jeopardy,” the report said.

Controversy was ignited in February, when Sweeney filed his affidavit with the federal Office of Special Counsel, which then determined there was a high probability of wrongdoing and directed the inspector general to investigate.

A letter from OSC Chief Elaine Kaplan, which accompanied the report, said the report documented “evidence of serious misconduct and improprieties.” At the same time, she found the investigation flawed because it did not, as required, state the actions the Pentagon intends to take to deal with the findings, and it did not address several of Sweeney’s specific charges.

The Army announced it has asked Lt. General Robert Flowers, who heads the corps, to submit his recommendations for changes in the evaluation process within 60 days. The Army’s vice chief of staff also was directed to take what action he deems appropriate against accused officers within the corps.

Sweeney, the whistleblower, was put in another job when preliminary conclusions of the investigation were released. His charges prompted congressional hearings and caused the Army to request the National Academy of Sciences to review the corps study. That report is expected in February.

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