GAO-11-318SP: Economic development: The Corps of Engineers should provide Congress with project-level information on unobligated balances

Economic development

The Corps of Engineers should provide Congress with project-level information on unobligated balances

Why Area Is Important

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) is the world's largest public engineering, design, and construction management agency. The Corps provides vital public engineering services in peace and war to strengthen the nation's security, energize the economy, and reduce risks from disasters.

Congress provides the Corps with "no-year" appropriations—that is, funds that are available for obligation until expended—so funding may be carried over to subsequent fiscal years. For example, if the Corps obligates $40 million of a $50 million appropriation, the $10 million that was not obligated is available for use in subsequent years.

In fiscal year 2010 the Corps' civil works program received about $5.7 billion to plan, construct, operate, and maintain hundreds of water resource projects. However, the budget presentation does not provide information on the amount of unobligated balances that remain available for each project. Such project-level information would help congressional decision makers make appropriations and oversight decisions informed by the availability of existing resources.

What GAO Found

The budget presentation for the Corps lacks transparency on key elements of the President's budget request. Specifically, it does not include information on how much remains available for specific projects that could potentially offset new funding requests for projects. For example, a Sabine-Neches Waterway project in Texas had about $31 million in unobligated balances from its fiscal year 2009 allocation that remained available to offset its fiscal year 2010 request. Consequently, Congress has not been able to consider the full level of resources available for projects when making its appropriations decisions. Corps review boards routinely review whether projects are meeting financial milestones, so unobligated balance information is available. Although a senior Corps budget official told GAO that detailed project-level information-such as remaining balances-would not be available until after budget materials are submitted to Congress, the Corps would be able to provide timely information before final appropriations decisions are made.

Actions Needed

To ensure that all relevant information is considered during congressional deliberations, GAO recommended in April 2010—and the Department of Defense agreed—that the Corps provide Congress with information on estimated project-level unobligated balances as a supplement to its budget presentation. GAO expects to follow up at a later date to assess the implementation of this recommendation. Although GAO cannot quantify the potential savings, this information would enable Congress to consider how much of the previous year's funding remains available to offset new funding requests.

Framework for Analysis

The information contained in this analysis is based on the previously issued report cited under the "Related GAO Products" tab.

Area Contact

For additional information about this area, contact Denise Fantone at (202) 512-4997 or fantoned@gao.gov or Anu K. Mittal at (202) 512-3841 or mittala@gao.gov.

Related GAO Products

Army Corps of Engineers: