This week, a reporter at a well-known publication called to discuss the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ role in combatting the Coronavirus. She asked several questions about whether the Corps’ actions might affect future debate over transferring some or all Corps’ responsibilities to other Federal agencies. She also referenced the Executive Branch’s 2018 Government Reform and Reorganization Plan which called for Corps civil works missions to be reassigned to, among others, the EPA and the Departments of Interior and Transportation.
My response: While we don’t yet have a Coronavirus vaccine, there’s one organization that has already been vaccinated, at least from any further attempts at reorganization: the US Army Corps of Engineers.
As the Corps has shown during this Coronavirus fight, it has a unique place within the Defense Department. It operates as part of DoD’s warfighting operation because one has to combine combat with rebuilding to win the peace. It also helps the Nation through its Civil Works missions, most importantly when responding to a disaster as part of FEMA’s National Response Framework.
Under the expert leadership of the Chief of Engineers, LTG Todd Semonite, today’s Corps is an agile and highly responsive organization in large part because of its approximately 600 Army officers (most with multiple overseas deployments) embedded at every command level leading 34,000 dedicated civilians. Breaking up this structure in a reorganization would destroy this great combination of leadership, program management, contract professionals, engineering design and construction oversight.
Only one month ago FEMA assigned to the Corps the critical mission of hospital construction. Since then, the Corps has begun constructing 40 hospitals with a 16,000-bed capacity for a total of $1.7 billion. All this is possible using more than 2000 deployed personnel supported by 15,000 other Corps team members in planning, design, contracting and construction oversight.
The Corps is also conducting more than 1000 hospital site assessments in all 50 states and 5 territories to determine whether more construction is required on short notice.
In summary, the Corps has been there for the Nation in the opening of the West, the Mississippi Floods of 1928, the Manhattan Bomb Project, and more recently during Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy. As our leaders consider a Corps reorganization, the key question is:
If we destroy our only National Engineering Organization, do we honestly believe that these other proposed organizations will somehow quickly step forward during a national crisis to fill the gap?
Maj. Gen. (USA ret) Robert Griffin
A member of the Dawson team since 2015, Robert Griffin spent 35 years in the U.S. Army Engineers, including service with the US Army Corps of Engineers as a District and Division Commander, and as Director of Civil Works and Deputy Commanding General.