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Understanding Congressional and Corps of Engineers funding processes

Recently, the Programs Division of the Army’s Civil Works Directorate issued its Work Plans for both the Emergency Supplemental and the IIJA. In layperson terms, this is the “spend” plan to allocate funds Congress has appropriated down to the project level. In FY 2021 there were 3 work plans, the FY 2022 Appropriations Act, the Infrastructure and Investment Act, and the FY 2022 Emergency Supplemental Act. The latter two are “out-of-cycle” appropriations.

Having spent the last 13 years of my career in the Corps overseeing civil work projects and policy, I found that projects funded in these bills appear to have been selected in generally the same manner as when I was with the Corps.

For many, the process for project selection is confusing and downright opaque. For local officials trying to gain federal support for urgently needed projects in their community, there can be significant frustration on why one community’s project received funding while another’s project did not.

In general, when out-of-cycle appropriations bills are passed, such as the Emergency Supplemental and IIJA bills funds allocated by the Congress to the Corps of Engineers are for:

  • Authorized study and construction projects that are awaiting appropriations and

  • Authorized, ongoing projects that have already been funded in part.

Administration guidance to the Corps for these out-of-cycle appropriations is generally to allocate funds to "shovel ready" projects where benefits can be injected into the economy quickly or, in the case of emergency relief funds, to quickly repair damaged projects or for FEMA missions such as debris removal or housing.

This is what I observed when I reviewed the study and construction project allocations in the two fiscal year 2022 out-of-cycle appropriations bills. Granted, there are always a few outliers (e.g. $70 million in FCCE to study, design and build a future emergency operations center), but the huge majority of the funds are being used to fund authorized projects. As all projects already have project partners and project partnering agreements (PPA) the funds may be used to continue and accelerate ongoing design, construction and study projects.

There were a substantial number of ongoing projects that were funded to construction and fiscal completion. These allocations often generate significant time and dollar savings.

In a typical annual appropriation most ongoing projects are only funded at the amount needed for that one year. When enough funds are available however, as in a supplemental appropriation, and the Corps can allocate the total project amount, Corps Districts are often able to save money and accelerate completion though use of more efficient contracts.

There are two useful messages for Corps partners or potential partners when observing these three FY 2022 appropriations:

  • If you have an ongoing project, any appropriation bill, either the normal fiscal year appropriation or an out-of-cycle appropriation bill may be used to accelerate the project or, in the case of disaster relief supplemental appropriations, to repair an existing project damaged by a storm. Corps Civil Works appropriations are not a vehicle to both authorize and fund a project.

  • There is no shortcut to plodding through the detailed and time-consuming process to get a project authorized. There are many checks and balances built into the authorization process to ensure that the project is economically, technically and environmentally sound. All projects must be authorized before funds can be appropriated.

Gary Loew

Senior Advisor

A member of the Dawson team since 2014, Gary was Chief of Civil Works Programs Management. He is 1 of 5 Dawson members to be inducted into the Army Corps of Engineers’ Gallery of Distinguished Civilian Employees, an exclusive list of former Corps employees.


The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Dawson & Associates.


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