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Floods: Army Corps Says PR Turns Babblers into Spokespersons

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"The flooding of the Midwest is a failure of the civil engineering profession. Levee overtopping and levee failure is predictable and controllable. Civil engineers have the knowledge and the tools to properly build levees that will do their job," Bosworth said.

"Every levee was designed by a civil engineer and hopefully built to specifications. They were not designed and built by "bubbas with bulldozers."

Bosworth went further and accused Galloway of trying to deflect responsibility away from civil engineers, who designed what Bosworth terms "worthless levees." Bosworth expressed concern that the blame will be placed "on local politicians, as was the case during Hurricane Katrina."

The answers provided in the mainstream media outlets were the same across the board. USACE was "preventing flooding," but then the rain came. Isn't that when flood controls come into play--when there is water to manage? But Fournier, Von Antwerp and Walsh got their message across and were not challenged. The rain came, and it did not stop. How could the Corps be blamed when they had "prevented flooding?" The buzz words, the bait and switch, the techniques learned for the PR firms worked perfectly. By the end of the weekend of June 21-22, God nature, pigs, and a lack of crystal balls had taken the rap. The spin-doctors were all preaching from the same script. More about the hapless porkers later.

But that is not all. The revolving doors in Washington are in perpetual motion, and researchers at the Center For Public Integrity have compiled a database that demonstrates the amount of traffic going through the door to the Army Corps of Engineers, and the potential for abuse of power these lobbyists wield over the U.S. Government.

According to the Center, between 1998 and 2004, 598 companies lobbied the USACE. In 2004 alone, the number was 234. The Center's electronic database includes the amount of money paid by lobbyists, specific issues, the agencies they lobbied, and who paid them to do so. The USACE list can be found here.


Sometimes, all the lobbyist has to do is issue a press release, the electronic equivalent of a thank you note, which targets millions of industry contacts--and voters.

There are many of these types of Internet services. Ad agencies use them all the time. For an average of a hundred bucks, you can get your packaged message out to targeted audiences, RSS feeds and Google. There is nothing inherently wrong with the service, but it is interesting to note how this kind of public relations can be a subtle kind of payback for favors gained. Take the example of a May 4, 2007 press release issued by the National Dredging Group as a "thank you" to members of the House of Representatives who pushed the passage of the Water Resources Development Act. In 408 words, the Dredging Contractors of America, which is on the list of USACE lobbyists, obliterated any illusion of ethical distance between USACE, Congress and the dredging group.
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"WASHINGTON, May 4 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The Dredging Contractors of America (DCA) applauds the passage of the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) by the U.S. House of Representatives. The bill passed the House by a vote of 394 to 25. DCA especially commends Congressman Jim Oberstar, Chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Committee, Congressman John Mica, Ranking Republican on the T&I Committee, Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson, Chairwoman of the Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee and Congressman Richard Baker, Ranking Republican on the Subcommittee for their leadership in moving a WRDA bill so quickly in this Congress.

"This legislation authorizes critical navigation, flood control, and coastal storm damage reduction projects. It also provides updated policy guidance for the Corps of Engineers, allowing the agency to respond to the growing water infrastructure and resource needs across our country."

Sandy Rosenthal, founder of the advocacy and watchdog group Levees.org in New Orleans was not surprised when asked to take a look at the lobbyists connected with USACE.

"The long and growing list of lobbyists to the US Army Corps of Engineers should come as no surprise. The Corps controls many billions of dollars worth of project every single year. With that kind of money comes power. Further, contractors working with the Corps are immune from liability and don't have to be licensed in the states where they work," Rosenthal said.

"This supreme power is the reason that the civil engineering community does not holler with outrage when federally engineered projects fail. To do so would bite the hand that feeds them. This silence happened in New Orleans right after Katrina and it is happening right now in the Midwest," Rosenthal added.
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"Independent Experts"

Media "expert" and former member of the USACE, engineer Brigadier General Gerald Galloway, was heard on NPR Radio this weekend. Galloway's resume states he is a "visiting scholar at the US Army Corps of Engineers Institute for Water Resources and a Senior Consultant to the Michael Baker Corporation for the FEMA Flood Map Modernization Program." This would hardly qualify Galloway as an independent expert.

Galloway was also a Vice-President at Titan Corporation, a consultant to the Executive Office of the President of the United States, and has "assisted the US Water Resources Council, the World Bank, the Organization of American States, TVA, the Corps of Engineers and various other organizations in water resources related activities."

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Georgianne Nienaber is an investigative environmental and political writer. She lives in rural northern Minnesota, New Orleans and South Florida. Her articles have appeared in The Society of Professional Journalists' Online Quill (more...)

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