White House Budget Proposes Cuts at Corps of Engineers

Army Corps dredger (file image)

By The Maritime Executive 03-14-2019 06:30:41

In a detailed budget released this week, the Trump administration proposed to cut the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' overall budget by nearly one third, including a 29 percent reduction in its coastal navigation program. 

At $4.75 trillion, the Trump administration's proposed federal budget for FY2020 would be the largest in history if it were enacted. However, it includes significant cuts for non-defense programs, including civil works like dredging and waterways maintenance. 

The detailed plan would reduce overall Corps of Engineers funding by 31 percent, down to $4.8 billion from last year's total of $7 billion. The two biggest accounts for the Corps - Construction and Operations & Maintenance - would both be cut, with Construction down by 41 percent ($1.3 billion versus last year's $2.18 billion) and O&M down by 20 percent ($3 billion versus last year's $3.7 billion) respectively. Within the Coastal Navigation segment of these budgets, Construction would rise slightly while O&M would fall by a third, according to an analysis by the American Association of Port Authorities. 

In explaining the proposal, the administration said that it wishes to focus on "projects with the highest economic, environmental, and safety returns and focuses on ongoing projects, rather than starting additional projects."

The president's budget is a recommendation to Congress, which has the final say over appropriations, and the FY2020 edition met with a cool reception in the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives. The USACE is particularly likely to see more funding than the White House recommends: since at least 2005, the House and Senate have always allocated more to the Corps of Engineers than the White House requested, often by wide margins. 

Still, the budget proposal is typically viewed as an expression of the administration's priorities, and President Donald Trump has previously supported waterways investments. While few expect the document to determine the shape of the final appropriations package, it “is still very disappointing considering the president’s many positive pronouncements on the importance of infrastructure investments," said Mike Toohey, president and CEO of the Waterways Council Inc.