Army Corps chief defends employees accused of data-rigging

Lt. Gen. Robert B. Flowers, the head of the Army Corps of Engineers, Tuesday defended Corps employees involved in a controversial waterway navigation project during a hearing before a Senate Appropriations subcommittee. The Army asked the National Academy of Sciences to evaluate the validity of the Corps' cost-benefit analysis that studied navigation improvements to the Mississippi and Illinois rivers, following a whistleblower's allegations of data-rigging last February. The academy will release its report Wednesday. While Flowers accepted the Army inspector general's finding last November that top Corps officials manipulated data in the massive navigation project, Flowers defended the integrity of the individuals involved. "It is not in the character of any of those officers to do anything for personal gain," said Flowers. A Nov. 13 report from the Army inspector general said top Corps officials changed data in a cost-benefit analysis studying navigation improvements to the Mississippi and Illinois rivers to justify the project's $1 billion price tag. The report also said there were "strong indications that institutional bias [favoring large-scale construction projects] might extend throughout the Corps." "The Army IG's findings raise some serious questions on how the Corps runs its operation," said Sen. Pete V. Domenici, R-N.M., chairman of the Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, at Tuesday's hearing. Two of the officials involved are now retired, and the third is working at a different command as part of his regular rotation. Flowers took over command of the Corps from Lt. Gen. Joe N. Ballard last August, before the inspector general's findings were released. When Domenici pressed Flowers on the Corps' efforts to address the issues raised by the inspector general, Flowers said he will submit his recommendations to the new Army Secretary and assistant secretary for civil works when they are appointed. Flowers' report on the inspector general's findings is due at the end of June. "I owe it to them [the new Army Secretary and assistant secretary for civil works] to sit down and go over the findings before I bring forward any recommendations," said Flowers. The Corps' navigation project on the Mississippi and Illinois rivers has been put on hold until June 2001. Flowers said the Corps will work with other federal agencies on how to improve the project and will incorporate the National Academy of Science's findings. The project is slated for completion in July 2002. "I take the issues surrounding the Army Corps of Engineers seriously, and I am making the changes necessary to insure the continued integrity of the civil works planning process, so that the Corps of Engineers can continue to fulfill its role in addressing the many water resource needs of this great country," Flowers said. Flowers said he has reached out to many of his organization's stakeholders, including members of Congress. The inspector general's investigation grew out of allegations made in February 2000 by Donald C. Sweeney, an economist with the Corps and the original technical manager of the waterway project. Sweeney told the Office of Special Counsel, the independent agency responsible for investigating whistleblower complaints, that some Corps officials violated Army regulations when they pressured employees to alter cost-benefit data.
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