A message to all employees of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works Michael Connor:
This week marks my one-year anniversary as the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works; an appropriate time to reflect on our collective progress, shared challenges, and plans for 2023.
First, I want to reiterate my strong appreciation for your impressive service to the Nation. Notwithstanding my familiarity with the Army Corps of Engineers prior to taking this position, the past year has been enlightening in seeing and understanding first-hand the breadth of responsibilities assigned to the Corps and the growing reliance of the Nation on its engineering, scientific, and operational capabilities. This reliance includes building resilience in our communities and natural systems, maintaining waterborne modes of commerce, and responding to disasters and emergency situations among many other responsibilities (regulatory, recreation, power generation, and environmental restoration). It’s an impressive and daunting portfolio. No other federal agency has the breadth of mission and capabilities as the Corps. I’m fortunate to be serving as the ASA(CW) and associated with the impressive work you carry out.
From that standpoint, it’s not surprising that in the last twelve months, I have heard much praise for the Corps from community leaders and stakeholders who are our partners on many civil works projects. It’s also been rewarding to see how the Corps is now recognized as taking a lead role in advancing the Administration’s priorities, particularly as it relates to strengthening supply chains, building climate resilience, and significantly investing in historically marginalized communities.
The progress made over the past year on the five priorities I laid out in March has been significant. Nonetheless, much remains to be accomplished. For example, we have allocated 84% of the $17.1 billion we received through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and are moving out on many of these crucial investments. By the end of this year, it’s expected that about 20% of those funds will be obligated. Clearly, there is much implementation work still ahead.
In addition to advancing work on a number of authorized but unfinished projects, we have initiated actions to modernize the Corps programs to ensure you can more rapidly innovate how you carry out the mission, and to also serve communities previously excluded by inequities inherent in how project benefits are valued. We have received significant feedback during the listening and consultation sessions related to the modernizing effort and are pursuing specific policy initiatives to address-long standing issues and meet the challenges and priorities of today. Specifically, we will be updating the Tribal consultation policy and have recently updated the Tribal Partnership Program guidance to better reflect the importance of our Tribal partnerships and inclusion of indigenous knowledge in our activities. We are also developing agency specific procedures for the Principles, Requirements, and Guidelines to ensure an updated process to evaluate water resource projects that support a broader and more equitable approach to addressing water resource challenges.
Of course, as earlier noted, the Corps must continue to respond to emergency situations even as we plan for and engage in long-range strategies and actions. As an example, I issued a drought resilience directive in mid-summer to address a major priority area for the Administration. But even as we contend with significant drought in the West and in the Mississippi River, we have seen the other end of the spectrum of extreme weather in the form of hurricanes and a record number of 1-in-1000 year precipitation events. Extremes have become the norm and we will need to collaborate even more closely with our partners to continually adjust by innovating our approach to anticipating, preparing for, and adapting to these climate driven changes. Needless to say, ongoing investments will be needed to drive this critical innovation and resilience agenda. So too will enhanced community engagement and collaboration as we seek to develop and permit projects with strong local support.
Much has been accomplished in 2022, but challenges remain and expectations are high for the Corps given its past successes. Probably most impressive, though, is the willingness of the Corps to acknowledge and recalibrate from situations that have been less successful. Having witnessed all of this over the past year, I remain confident in your ability to meet the challenges ahead while striving for continued improvements and a modernized approach in how we deliver for the American people. This is particularly true given the leadership provided by the Chief, MG Graham, and the Director of Civil Works. I couldn’t ask for better partners.
Finally, I hope all of you had a great Thanksgiving weekend, and that it was merely a warm-up to a wonderful holiday season with family and friends. Thank you again for your public service.
Michael L. Connor
Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works)
To hear more from Mr. Connor on his first year as ASA(CW), listen to the new Inside the Castle podcast posted today.