Transformation Implementation

Although it has taken many years and various factors to drive the push for change, the overall objective of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Civil Works Transformation effort is simple: to be able to deliver high-quality feasibility studies for a reasonable cost and within a reasonable timeframe.

 

By Maj. Jeffrey M. Beeman, P.E., M.SAME, USA  

   


 Long Beach Harbor

USACE IMAGE


 

The Civil Works mission of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) traces the country’s growth and development, with a history dating back to when Congress called on engineers to plan the movement of goods and people via roads and canals.

Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, Congress continued to formally augment the Corps’ Civil Works responsibilities, giving it authority in flood control, navigable waterways, hydropower generation, environmental protection, water supply, beach erosion control, ecosystem restoration, recreation and emergency response. Today, the Civil Works program includes stewardship of 11.7-million-acres of public lands and construction, operation and maintenance of 14,500-mi of levees, 400-mi of shoreline protection, 13,000-mi of commercial inland waterways, 702 dams, 926 harbors and 851 bridges. USACE’s Civil Works program has brought and continues to bring incredible value to the nation. So why transform it?

The many expanded authorities within Civil Works brought forth more oversight and regulation, along with more steps in the project development process. The late 1960s and early 1970s saw enactment of the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act, which required USACE to consider environmental impacts, increase public participation in planning, and consult with other federal agencies. The Water Resources Development Act of 1986 created new cost-sharing formulas, resulting in greater financial and decision-making roles for local stakeholders. As a result of the failure of the New Orleans levee structure caused by Hurricane Katrina, the Water Resources Development Act of 2007 mandated Independent External Peer Reviews of Civil Works designs. The law also called for equal consideration of economic, environmental and social benefits in planning Civil Works projects.
 
The increasing responsibilities USACE had taken on through the Civil Works program, its own internal checks and balances, and legislative changes that impacted the project development process resulted in longer and more costly feasibility studies. This led to fewer Chief of Engineers Reports and fewer authorized and appropriated construction projects. The overall length and cost of delivering a feasibility study would soon warrant Congressional attention.

 

INITIATING A TRANSFORMATION
 
The FY2011 Senate Energy and Water Appropriations Report criticized the Civil Works planning process, citing the drop in Chief of Engineers Reports and the extensive time required to complete complex planning studies. In the year that followed, USACE identified and set in motion an aggressive pilot program, made effective Feb. 8, 2012 through the “3x3x3” memo from Maj. Gen. Michael Walsh, USA, then Deputy Commanding General for Civil & Emergency Operations, that completely overhauled the Civil Works feasibility study process, impacting both active and future studies. The 3x3x3 memo would serve as the foundation for the much larger Civil Works Transformation effort.
 
Civil Works Transformation also would bring about a new SMART Planning Model to replace the Legacy Planning Model.

 

MILESTONE-FOCUSED APPROACH
 
Civil Works Transformation encompasses USACE’s broader effort to more effectively and efficiently deliver feasibility studies. It streamlines four parameters of the entire Civil Works program: budget development, infrastructure strategy, method of delivery, and planning.
 
The 3x3x3 memo established rules referring to a typical project completing the feasibility study phase in no more than three years, at a cost of no more than $3 million, and integrating all three levels of the agency throughout the project delivery process (district, division and headquarters). The memo also specified that target lengths of feasibility studies should not exceed 100 pages without appendices, or a single 3-in binder with appendices. The details of the memo are now codified in the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014.
 
 
“SMARTER” WAY TO PLAN
 
SMART Planning (which stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Risk-Informed and Timely) is the vehicle that will deliver the timeline and cost objectives for high-quality feasibility studies. In a shift from Legacy Planning, outputs are now milestone-focused rather than task-focused and they are delivered by an early-identified vertical team that remains the same throughout. One of the major contributors to reducing a feasibility study’s length is the change from multiple-phase planning to single-phase planning. With the Legacy Planning Model, internal budgetary planning between the initiation-recon and recon-feasibility study phases would take several years, primarily because the initiation and recon phases were fully funded by the federal government. In the new model, the recon and feasibility study phases are now combined. There is no break between phases. Equally as important, the entire study is now cost-shared with the non-federal sponsor, with the exception of $5,000 seed money to negotiate a feasibility cost sharing agreement.
 
With the Legacy Model, USACE and the non-federal sponsor would have a very good idea of whether the project would materialize at the end of the recon phase, without costing the non-federal sponsor anything. Because the new model cost-shares the study from initiation to completion, the added financial responsibility of the non-federal sponsor will likely result in fewer new starts. However, those new projects that do emerge will be more likely to make it through the entire feasibility study phase, ultimately resulting in a greater likelihood of Congressional authorization and appropriation.
 
 

Civil Works Transformation encompasses USACE’s broader effort to more effectively and efficiently deliver feasibility studies. It streamlines four parameters of the entire Civil Works program: budget development, infrastructure strategy, method of delivery, and planning.
 
 
The 3x3x3 memo also addressed the need to restrain the overall cost of a feasibility study to no more than $3 million, with 50 percent being the responsibility of the non-federal sponsor. Given that the fiscal years of local, state and federal governments often differ, syncing budget cycles can prove difficult. By forecasting $300,000 the first year, $700,000 the second year, and $500,000 the last year, the non-federal sponsor is more likely to meet its cost-sharing agreement. If the non-federal sponsor cannot meet its cost-sharing agreement, the study is put on hold. An added benefit of the forecasted yearly cost-sharing milestones is the addition of off-ramps for the non-federal sponsor that the Legacy Model did not provide.
 
 
INTEGRATING REVIEW PERIODS
 
Another area that is realizing major time and cost savings with the new SMART Planning Model is the review periods. There are numerous reviews performed by each agency level. Legal certification and the quality control review are performed by the district. Quality assurance is performed by the division. HQ USACE performs the Office of Water Policy review. Following that, the project is released for the Independent External Peer Review.
 
With the Legacy Model, each of these reviews were conducted sequentially. SMART planning combines all into a parallel review period, shaving years off the process and more likely keeping target review costs between 10 percent to 20 percent of the overall project cost. In addition, with all three USACE levels engaged from study initiation, the vertical team is more likely to hit its deadlines as all participants are invested from the start.
   
 
ENSURING A LASTING IMPACT
 
Civil Works Transformation is ongoing, which makes its ultimate impact yet to be determined. There are several other factors, both external and internal, that must be considered. Changing administrations (at all levels of government) with different priorities could derail studies. Various levels of political influence could impact an authorization or appropriation. Much of that though has been eliminated by the self-imposed Congressional ban on earmarks in 2010. In fact, a side benefit to that is the Corps now can concentrate more on basin-wide studies, as opposed to individual projects. Still, the inconsistency of enabling legislation, which should happen bi-annually but has only seen three laws passed in the last 15 years, could impact Civil Works Transformation. The backlog results in more Chief of Engineers Reports in those bills being considered, making them larger and more difficult to pass. Internally, USACE can be guilty of seeking the perfect solution; however, the SMART Model and 3x3x3 objectives directly go after that by ensuring the correct risk-informed decision at the right time.
 
Ultimately, the Corps’ goal is better execution and impact of projects in support of its Civil Works mission for the nation. With a will to succeed, and support provided by improvements to the feasibility study process, that goal is achievable.

 


 

Maj. Jeffrey M. Beeman, P.E., M.SAME, USA, is Deputy Resident Engineer, Fort Irwin Hospital Resident Office, USACE Los Angeles District; 858-775-7467, or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..