Every February, the President delivers his annual budget to Congress. That budget contains the funding for numerous federal agencies and programs, including the Corps of Engineers. Once the President’s Budget has been released and the members of Congress have had time to review it, leadership from the Charleston District travels to Washington, DC to discuss the budget with the South Carolina Congressional delegation and answer any questions they may have about the projects. This year, Lt. Col. Ed Chamberlayne, deputy for project management Bill Stein, and I met with the Congressional members and their staff on March 4th-5th to discuss the $26 million provided to the District’s civil works program in the fiscal year (FY) 2013 budget.
“When the Congressional staffers meet with us, it’s a bit different from many of the meetings they are usually involved with,” said Stein. “So many meetings they have are with people who are asking them for funds or asking them to do something specific. We are there to provide updates on Corps projects in South Carolina and answer any questions they may have.”
As the lead for the District’s Congressional Liaison program, I have been visiting Washington regularly for six years. Our goal with the visits is simple – to answer questions the members of the delegation have about our projects. Since the Corps is part of the Administration, the President’s Budget is our budget. We don’t advocate for projects that aren’t funded.
Preparation for the Congressional visits starts with the release of the President’s Budget. My staff and I review the President’s Budget to identify what projects and programs within Charleston District have been funded and for what amount. Using this information, fact sheets on each of the Corps’ studies and projects are developed or updated to reflect the information in the budget and to give the current status, highlighting any work that is ongoing in the current fiscal year.
For the FY 13 President’s Budget visit, the District prepared or updated 30 project and program fact sheets in addition to updating a map of our projects. Of the $26 million in the President’s Budget for Charleston District, $3.5 million is for the Charleston Harbor Post 45 feasibility study, $15.9 million for operation and maintenance (O&M) of Charleston Harbor, $4.6 million for O&M of the Cooper River Rediversion Project, and $400,000 to complete plans and specs and environmental compliance for Folly Beach in preparation for the next renourishment cycle.
Although each member has different questions about different projects, each briefing given by the District covers the same general areas – civil works and the President’s Budget, a brief update on major international and interagency support (IIS) projects and military workload, and a brief status update on major regulatory actions under review. While the meetings center on the President’s Budget and the civil works program, the District’s support to the Veteran’s Administration, Department of Energy and Department of State through IIS for construction projects is of interest to the members and they often ask questions about the Corps’ role and what services we provide.
“Congressional members and their staff are very interested in how the Corps supports our sister federal agencies and in understanding how that support can help stretch scarce federal funds,” said Chamberlayne. “We are very proud of the work we do for our federal customers and are happy to update any of the members on where we are with various construction projects.”
Because South Carolina has such a large percentage of area that is wetlands, the District’s regulatory division always has several large and complex permit applications under review. The goal of the regulatory division is to make fair, balanced and reasonable permit decisions that balance development needs and the needs of the environment while enforcing the Clean Water Act. For this visit, regulatory permit topics included I-73, the VC Summer and Lee nuclear facilities, and the Haile Goldmine.
For the Charleston District team, Congressional visits don’t just represent another briefing or meeting. It’s part of the roles and responsibilities of being a public servant.
“As a Corps of Engineers’ employee, I take our role of being stewards of the taxpayer’s money very seriously,” explains Stein. “Updating Congress on what we are doing with the federal funds we are provided, regardless of how large or small the project is, helps ensure accountability and transparency in government.”
Personally, I find that coming to Capitol Hill and walking the same hallways that have been used by generation after generation of elected officials as they developed the laws of our nation is still awe inspiring. When we meet in the representatives’ offices in the Capitol, I can’t help but sneak a look out the window and wonder what previous occupiers of the office saw from the window as they worked to support their constituents and develop the nation.