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Joined: 09 Jan 2006
Location: New Orleans, LA
|Posted: Tue Nov 07, 2006 11:05 am Post subject: Army Corps seeking Private Sector Help?
|Could the Corps possibly be forced to seek input from the Private Sector? Would Tulane screw up and miss this opportunity AGAIN?
Vitter derides 'insulated' corps
Congress holds key to reform, senator says
Tuesday, November 07, 2006
By Kate Moran
Sen. David Vitter advocated wholesale change Monday to what the called the leaden bureaucracy of the Army Corps of Engineers, an agency he said took an average of 13 years to design and build vital flood protection infrastructure.
In an informal talk with a Jefferson Parish citizens group Monday night, Vitter touted two pieces of legislation snaking their way through Congress that he said were critical to the safety of the region: the Water Resources Development Act, which includes language to reform the corps, and the revenue-sharing mechanism that would allow Louisiana to capture a share of offshore oil and gas royalties that now go to the federal government.
Vitter, a Republican, criticized the corps for failing to tap the engineering expertise of the private sector, and he said one of the most important changes Congress could mandate is that the agency begin to seek the advice of engineers who have not absorbed what he called the plodding internal culture of the corps.
"The corps has gotten very insulated and very isolated," Vitter said. "As a result, they ended up making horrible design mistakes that led to breaches in our outfall canals."
In the days immediately after Katrina, when water was gushing through breaches in several outfall canals, the corps showed a dramatic sense of urgency that Vitter said has fallen away in the ensuing months. In addition to seeking guidance from outsiders, he said, the corps needs to develop a way to push through flood protection projects more quickly.
He said the corps might accomplish both objectives through a contracting process known as "design-build," by which the same companies that help design the project also help to build it. The corps now designs levees and floodwalls and then seeks construction bids from the private sector.
"From day one, they need to go to the outside world and invite their ideas on the front end, rather than hand the contracting community a design set in stone," Vitter said.
One member of the audience asked Vitter whether the federal government might finance flood protection in much the same way it bankrolls highways, by earmarking money and passing it on to local or state governments to implement the projects.
"The engineering community in this area knows how to build levees," said the audience member, who did not give his name. "We would allow the corps to be one of several possible contractors, and we would use them if they were good."
Vitter said too much local control could produce a fragmented levee system, but he did embrace the idea that local governments should have more sway in how flood protection is handled.
To the dismay of some in the audience, Vitter estimated that the Water Resources Development Act had a 40 percent chance of being signed into law before Congress goes out of session in December. He said the revenue-sharing bill, which is parked in a conference committee, has about the same odds.
Vitter was one half of the Senate tag team that was scheduled to appear Monday at the monthly meeting of Citizens for a Safer Jefferson, a group with Republican sympathies that formed in the wake of Katrina to focus on flood protection. The other half, Democrat Mary Landrieu, had to bow out at the last minute.
While most of Vitter's talk focused on corps reform, he also fielded questions from audience members who were concerned about the skyrocketing cost of insurance. Insurance regulation is usually handled by the states, but Vitter said the federal government might consider acting as a "backstop" to the market after natural disasters.
He said caution would be the federal watchword on insurance matters.
"The last thing we should do is rush to have government do that and encourage private insurance to pull out of coastal areas more than they should," Vitter said.
. . . . . . .
Kate Moran can be reached at email@example.com or (504) 883-7052.
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