Trump wants to move Army Corps to Interior, Transportation departments
Most functions of the Army Corps of Engineers, including oversight of hurricane and river levees, coastal wetland permitting and river navigation in Louisiana, would be transferred to the departments of Interior and Transportation under a Trump administration plan announced Thursday to completely restructure the federal government.
The corps now handles what are called "civil works" programs as part of the Department of Defense. That historically included overseeing construction of the $14.6 billion hurricane levees in the New Orleans area after Hurricane Katrina, the construction of the Mississippi River and Tributaries river levee system and the dredging of various rivers and navigation channels in Louisiana for shipping.
The corps also oversees the granting of Clean Water Act permits required for construction in Louisiana wetland areas.
The 132-page government reorganization proposal says transferring corps navigation functions to the Transportation Department makes sense because that agency handles most other transportation responsibilities nationwide, such as the interstate highway system.
Moving the corps' land and water management duties, including levees and environmental Clean Water Act permitting, to Interior would also make sense because of that agency's long emphasis on land and environmental issues, the Trump administration's plan said. It also notes the move would reduce present overlapping of environmental permitting requirements of the two agencies.
The government realignment plan also calls for merging the National Marine Fisheries Service, currently part of the Commerce Department's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. The Fisheries Service now governs offshore fishing and related Endangered Species Act and Marine Mammal Protection Act permits for ocean fish, mammals and reptiles, while the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service oversees similar laws governing mostly freshwater fishery species and other land-based wildlife.
The proposal released Thursday does not detail what would happen to the corps' local and regional offices and their employees who might be affected by the transfers, or whether the New Orleans District office would be closed or become an Interior office.
Adoption of the governmental streamlining proposals would require Congressional approval and likely would require changes in dozens of existing laws governing present corps, Transportation and Interior functions.
Moving levee and environmental permitting decision-making out of the corps is a change long championed by Louisiana Rep. Garret Graves, R-Baton Rouge, who as former chairman of the state Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority often battled with corps officials over both funding and permitting decisions.
Efforts to change the role of the corps in permitting and project construction in Louisiana also have been supported by other members of the state's Congressional delegation and local and state officials.
In a statement released after the White House announced its proposal, Graves said hurricane protection, coastal restoration, flood control and ports and waterways should be compatible with the mission of the agency overseeing them, and should be a priority of the agency's cabinet-level secretary.
"The current structure is neither and the decades of delays and skyrocketing project costs have resulted," Graves said, adding he's been discussing just such a realignment with the Trump administration, military leaders and others.
"White House support for this initiative is a major boost to the groundwork we have laid in the recently-passed Water Resources Development Act," he said. That legislation included provisions allowing the transfer of some corps permitting and construction functions to Interior or other federal agencies.