“NO” on the WRDA Conference Report

This week the House will vote on the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014 (H. Rept. 113-449).  This massive piece of legislation crosses five out of six red lines laid out by the Heritage Foundation.

First, the water resources development act (WRDA) conference report does not aggressively deal with the project backlog by enacting sufficient deauthorizations.  In November, the Heritage Foundation recommended Congress “clear the decks of the $60 billion – $80 billion backlog.”  The conference report does not even come close to accomplishing that goal.  To date, the Corps had piled up a $60 billion project backlog (and that is a conservative  estimate).  Yet this conference report would deauthorize a mere $6 billion on net, just 10 percent of the Corps’ current backlog.     

Second, while the spending is not made mandatory, the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF) “reforms” are geared toward spending as opposed to structural reforms that would provide for a better reflection of the cost of harbor and port maintenance and the potential for future devolution.

Third, Heritage recommended prioritization for the Army Corps of Engineers. As Heritage notes, “conferees should have set up criteria that would limit these and future project authorizations to those of national importance, thereby refocusing the Corps’s mission.”  Instead, the conference report lists 34 newly authorized projects while failing to set in place a satisfactory means of prioritizing future projects.

Fourth, Heritage warned against increasing the federal/non-federal cost share.  The conference report hiked the federal cost-share for the Olmsted Lock and Dam from 75 percent in the House bill to 85 percent, thus increasing taxpayer liability. It’s worth noting the original cost-share for the project was 50 percent.  This is a step back for lowering the federal cost-share burden.

Fifth, the bill fails to fix the problem of benefit-cost analysis for new projects in that the Corps often overstates the benefits and understates the costs.  Heritage notes, “Congress should have included this crucial reform and also strengthened the BCA analysis to ensure that parochial projects do not make the cut.”  They also note, “Maintaining cost-share rules established in the 1986 WRDA is important for limiting federal costs and incentivizing local project sponsors to pursue affordable, sustainable projects.”

While crossing these lines represents some of the most egregious policy errors, the bill contains many other flawed proposals.  Broadly, it hikes spending while doing little to reduce bureaucracy and limit the role of the federal government.

As the Heritage Foundation’s Emily Goff states, the conference report “fails to address the root problems of poor prioritization, outdated analysis, and a sprawling mission, which plague the Corps.”

Heritage Action opposes the WRDA conference report and will include it as a vote on our legislative scorecard.  

Related:

Heritage Action Scorecard
First Take on Water Resources Conference Report: Lacks Necessary Reforms, Hikes Spending
Necessary Reforms in the Water Resources Development Act Conference Bill