Ranking Member Sen. Tom Carper gave the opening statement at the Oct. 23 U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing, “Improving American Economic Competitiveness through Water Resources Infrastructure: Federal Panel.”

“Good morning, everyone. Mr. Chairman, my thanks again to you and our colleagues, Sen. Inhofe and Sen. Cardin, and to your staffs for working with us to improve America’s water infrastructure,” said Carper.

“Last Congress, we worked together in a bipartisan way to address major challenges to our country’s water infrastructure — however, we still have work ahead of us,” said Carper.

“I believe that every American deserves equal access to clean, safe, reliable and affordable drinking water,” said Carper. “That’s why I believe our committee must continue to conduct oversight on the implementation of the 2018 law, and act, if needed, to refine the federal programs that are essential to achieving that important goal. Earlier this year, our committee held a hearing with stakeholders to kick off the WRDA 2020 process. I expect that today will be a continuation of that hearing and provide us with yet another opportunity to reflect on the last WRDA bill as we look ahead to the next one.”

“Let me begin by raising an issue that bears repeating. During the drafting process for the last WRDA, this committee repeatedly heard that the Office of Management and Budget micromanages the Corps of Engineers,” said Carper. “There continues to be a troubling lack of transparency with respect to how OMB reviews Corps projects. This concern was echoed by both the Republican and Democratic witnesses last month.”

“Mr. Chairman, I would like to submit for the record witness testimony from Jamey Sanders, vice president for Choctaw Transportation Co., who testified last month on behalf of the Associated General Contractors of America,” said Carper. “In his statement, Mr. Sanders called on Congress to, ‘reform the benefit-cost analyses and eliminate duplicative and confusing accounting process,’ used by OMB.”

“The benefit-cost analyses to which Mr. Sanders is referring is the tool that OMB and the Corps use to prioritize projects, and we have heard repeatedly from stakeholders that this method of prioritization fails to capture all of a project’s benefits because it considers only national economic impacts,” said Carper.

“All of this means that the corps’ budget and work plans often fail to include projects that would address critical needs in smaller, coastal, rural, disadvantaged and tribal communities,” said Carper. “As I understand it, Assistant Secretary James has been working diligently to implement the 2018 law, including fulfilling many reporting and transparency requirements.”

“However, OMB adds additional layers of review on corps projects to which no other federal project agency is subjected,” said Carper. “While there are a number of outstanding corps projects underway, I am confident that Secretary James and General Semonite will ensure the corps’ work is completed. That said, it is my understanding that OMB, which is under the Office of the President, is the real culprit behind the corps documents, reports and projects that remain significantly delayed. Meanwhile, these needless delays are happening at a time when our country faces a tremendous backlog of corps projects and water infrastructure maintenance needs.”

“Millions of Americans across the country rely on Army Corps projects to safely navigate waters, stay safe from flooding and storm damage and reap the benefits of healthy aquatic ecosystems and marshlands,” said Carper. “At the end of the day, we need greater investment in corps projects — not less. We also need for OMB to be an effective and cooperative partner, and if that’s a role that OMB is unwilling, or unable, to play, perhaps they should consider just stepping aside. Needless to say, I am disappointed that we do not have a witness here today from OMB.”

“I’ll close by noting that the 2018 WRDA included a number of drinking water and wastewater provisions, the most significant of which was the first reauthorization of the Drinking Water State Revolving Loan Fund in 22 years,” said Carper. “Issues surrounding clean drinking water continue to be one of the top priorities for me and so many of our colleagues in this Congress.”

“The fact is, we need to ensure that every American has clean, safe and reliable water to drink. So, as we get to work on our 2020 WRDA bill, I think it’s critically important that we keep that clear goal in mind,” said Carper.

“Thank you again, Mr. Chairman, for holding this hearing,” said Carper. “I look forward to hearing from our witnesses today and to working with all of the members of this committee in the months ahead to craft the next bipartisan WRDA bill for the full Senate to debate, amend if needed, and pass so that we can go to conference with our colleagues in the House of Representatives.”