Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Is it time to just shut down the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers?

In my nearly two decades of covering the defense establishment, I never really looked at the Army Corps of Engineers. It is like a separate entity. I regretted that neglect when I read a story in this morning’s Washington Post about a scheme involving two Corps program managers and people at a private company that ...

In my nearly two decades of covering the defense establishment, I never really looked at the Army Corps of Engineers. It is like a separate entity.

I regretted that neglect when I read a story in this morning's Washington Post about a scheme involving two Corps program managers and people at a private company that prosecutors are calling "one of the most brazen bribery and corruption schemes in the history of federal contracting." The Post continues: "they bought millions of dollars worth of BMWs, Rolex and Cartier watches, flat-screen televisions, first-class airline tickets and investment properties across the globe."

The story ended on this dismaying note: "Press officers of the Corps of Engineers did not return phone calls or e-mails seeking comment." The Corps needs to make dealing with this scandal priority no. 1 -- especially in a budget environment where any entity that is not clearly contributing greatly faces the prospect of being eliminated.

In my nearly two decades of covering the defense establishment, I never really looked at the Army Corps of Engineers. It is like a separate entity.

I regretted that neglect when I read a story in this morning’s Washington Post about a scheme involving two Corps program managers and people at a private company that prosecutors are calling “one of the most brazen bribery and corruption schemes in the history of federal contracting.” The Post continues: “they bought millions of dollars worth of BMWs, Rolex and Cartier watches, flat-screen televisions, first-class airline tickets and investment properties across the globe.”

The story ended on this dismaying note: “Press officers of the Corps of Engineers did not return phone calls or e-mails seeking comment.” The Corps needs to make dealing with this scandal priority no. 1 — especially in a budget environment where any entity that is not clearly contributing greatly faces the prospect of being eliminated.

Justice William Douglas once suggested that every federal agency should have a sunset provision — that is, it ceases to exist after, say, 10 years, unless the Congress renewed it. I think it may be time to re-visit that thought.   

Meanwhile, in other legal proceedings, a Coast Guard chief warrant officer was convicted of, among other things, malingering. I can’t remember seeing that charged before.

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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