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Posted 1/4/2013

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By John Prettyman


Too costly.

Too slow.

Both phrases are often used to describe today's U.S. Army Corps of Engineers civil works program. Leadership has taken notice and is implementing a transformation program that is already beginning to change the way the Corps does business.

"The Civil Works transformation is really about how we adapt to the change that's going on all around us," said Steve Stockton, director of Civil Works, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers headquarters. "Our fiscal climate is very constrained, expectations are high and we don't have enough federal resources to do all that is expected from us. These are only a couple of challenges we are facing.”

To meet these current and future challenges, the Corps has targeted four key areas in its civil works program for improvement: the project planning process, budget development, infrastructure strategy and methods of delivery.

One aspect of the strategy for modernizing the planning process has been nicknamed "3x3x3," which means studies will be completed in less than three years; cost no more than $3 million; and reinforce early involvement of the three levels of the Corps (district, division and headquarters). Additionally, the goal is to prepare reports to be no more than three inches thick.

"For our sponsors, schedule tends to be the greatest concern to them," said Alicia Kirchner, chief of planning division, Sacramento District. "They're very excited about the idea of getting to actionable decisions in no more than a three-year period."

The Sutter feasibility study in California’s Sutter and Butte counties was selected as a pilot for planning modernization, and has already benefited from the Corps' civil works transformation.

"It's taken a study that was struggling with time and funding, and, with the new ideas under the planning modernization, it is moving to completion in an expedited manner, where it's getting the visibility, prioritization, funding and resources that it needs," said Kirchner.

The next target area in the transformation is the budget development process. Projects will be evaluated and prioritized based on their system-wide benefits as opposed to stand-alone projects. The Corps will develop a common operating picture of all projects within a watershed (federal, state, local, tribes, nongovernmental organizations) and collaborate with its partners to understand their priorities.

"Smart investment within the realities of fiscal constraints. We're putting money where it matters the most," said Brig. Gen. Michael Wehr, South Pacific Division commander. "It has to go where the worst threat is and where the most return of investment can be found."

The next element of the transformation involves developing a robust infrastructure strategy to ensure our infrastructure is sustainable and reliable. Our portfolio of assets is being evaluated within a systems-based process that includes looking at financing alternatives to support the right infrastructure investments.

"In some cases it may be getting rid of civil works projects that no longer add value to the nation," said Col. William Leady, Sacramento District commander. "We did that here years ago when we got rid of the Sacramento lock that was no longer functioning as a navigation lock."

The final target area for Civil Works is improving methods of delivery, which means many engineering services such as dam safety production centers, inland navigation design, and deep-draft navigation economics will be managed at a regional or enterprise level instead of at the districts. This will ensure more consistency throughout the Corps, consolidation of technical expertise and building core competencies Corps-wide.

"Across the Corps, at every division, we're building one dam safety production center that maintains that expertise, and then services the whole region. This will allow us to accomplish our dam safety mission more efficiently while maintaining and building this unique expertise for the future," said Leady.

In today's challenging environment, the transformation sets a clear direction for the civil works program to best serve the public, meet the nation's water resource needs, and help the Corps remain relevant in the 21st century.

"We can't continue doing what we've done in the past and expect to survive as government gets smaller," said Stockton. "We need to transform ourselves to be relevant if we are to continue to add value to the nation."

budget development civil works transformation Corps of Engineers dam safety infrastructure strategy methods of delivery navigation project planning sacramento district U.S. Army