Understanding the Section 203 process in Corps of Engineers project authorization

Doug Lamont, PE

In this day of limited Investigations funds in the Corps of Engineers budget, many sponsors have turned to the Section 203 process to get projects authorized. Since 1986, sponsors have been authorized to undertake feasibility studies of proposed water resources development projects for submission directly to the Secretary of the Army (the ASA(CW)).

Recently, in response to a WRDA 2018 amendment to the Section 203 authority, the ASA(CW) established new policy and procedures for non-Federal sponsors to conduct, on their own, feasibility studies that would, once completed and transmitted by the Secretary to Congress, serve as the basis for authorization of new water resources projects.

With the reality of Federal budgetary constraints and a diminished Investigations program, Section 203 as amended, provides considerable opportunity for non-Federal sponsors to commence studies on priority projects more expeditiously.

While potentially a significant help in expediting review and approval, project sponsors should be aware that in amending Section 203, Congress has now stipulated that before a Section 203 study can go forward, the feasibility study itself must be “federally authorized.” This generally takes the form of a Congressional study resolution, an authorized project being the basis for generic authority, or Section 216 of the Flood Control Act of 1970 review of completed projects authority.

Project sponsors seeking to perform a new Section 203 study on a new project may lack generic authority. In this case, either securing study resolution authority from the authorizing committees or use of the Section 7001 process (WRDA 2014) should provide the solution.

However our experience is that in most cases, sponsors are seeking review on existing projects. They generally already have an underlying generic authority for further study.

In summary, Section 203, as amended, provides project sponsors flexibility to conduct their own studies in cases where time and Federal budget constraints may not comport with sponsor’s schedules and needs. Many project sponsors are in a position where they cannot await a new study start budgetary decision. This is where Section 203 studies may provide sponsors the ability to meet their needs more directly. Section 203 provides that the Secretary has 180-days after receipt of a non-Federal 203 feasibility study to make his recommendation to Congress.

Doug Lamont
Senior Advisor

Doug joined the Dawson team this year after a career with the Army Corps of Engineers, including 13 years as Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Project Planning and Review.

Dawson & Associates is pleased to offer this blog as a forum for our colleagues to comment on timely issues. These commentaries reflect the diverse backgrounds and opinions of our team and do not necessarily reflect the views of our company or others affiliated with it.