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Catfish and Cod
Tuesday, September 02, 2003
The danger in the occupation budget: II.
(Link path: Washington Post)
(Previous episode: I.)

Why are Halliburton's deals out of control? Because they've been assigned to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

For those not familiar with the Corps of Engineers: they are the most out-of-control, profligate spenders and wasters of money in the entire Federal Government. They don't even pretend to take orders anymore from the Executive Branch, when it doesn't suit them. Most Corps projects are directly entailed, earmarked, and directed by Congressional appropriations bills: in order words, they take orders directly from the legislature. And they are very good at lobbying for irrelevant and silly projects, just for purposes of job creation.

Example: My home state, Mississippi, is crossed by the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway. This engineering feat was supposedly intended to serve as a alternative and a backup to the Mississippi River as a shipping canal for barges. Proposed repeatedly since the eighteenth century, it was finally approved in the 1950's, and took nigh on thirty years to build. The total amount of earth moved was far in excess of the Panama Canal. In fact, the Corps had to be dissuaded from using tactical nuclear weapons in the blasting process. Vast locks and dams were built down the length of eastern Mississippi. The system was opened in the mid-eighties, to great fanfare.

Almost no one uses it. Ninety percent of all barge traffic continues down the Mississippi, same as before. A few small enterprises, such as marinas on the new lakes, were started. Most failed. Billions of dollars were spent, and (aside from the engineering patronages) no real economic results were acheived. The only way the Tenn-Tom will ever be worthwhile is if the Mississippi River becomes impassable to navigation. And I assure you, if that ever happens, the Corps has projects already in the works to fix it, quickly. And expensively.

Control of Iraq's reconstruction must be removed from the hands of the Corps of Engineers and handed over to the CPA, where it belongs, so that Iraqi companies may be awarded contracts. (And control must not go to the Governing Council just yet -- the opportunities to use the money for Iraqi political patronage jobs, as opposed to American political patronage jobs, would be too great at this stage.)