Army Corps improves approach to water resources planning

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers formalizes, improves its peer review and collaborative planning processes with release of two new engineering circulars...

WASHINGTON, DC, June 27, 2005 (U.S. Newswire) -- The United States Army Corps of Engineers has released two engineer circulars that will formalize and improve the peer review and collaborative planning processes used by the Corps in its performance of the nation's Civil Works program.

Engineer Circular 1105-2-408, Peer Review of Decision Documents, and Engineer Circular 1105-2-409, Planning in a Collaborative Environment, both dated May 31, 2005, provide all levels of the Corps with formal guidance on how peer review and collaboration are to be implemented and integrated in the Civil Works program. The circulars will also provide external stakeholders and the general public with a greater understanding of the processes the Corps will use in the future execution of the Civil Works mission.

"The publication of the peer review and collaborative planning circulars are important steps in the Corps' ongoing efforts to find ways to more effectively serve the nation," said Maj. Gen. Don T. Riley, USACE's director of Civil Works.

"The circulars are the result of the Corps taking a hard look at its internal processes and in listening to our external stakeholders about critical issues that need to be addressed in the Civil Works program," added Riley. "Implementing the guidance in the circulars will help to maintain and improve the confidence of our many partners and the American public in the credibility and quality of the program."

Publication of engineer circulars provides USACE with a two- year window to operate under the procedures in the circulars, while also providing flexibility to change and adapt as lessons are learned and greater efficiencies are found during that time frame.

Both the Peer Review of Decision Documents and the Planning in a Collaborative Environment circulars are set to expire on Sept. 30, 2007, at which time the Corps expects to publish a final engineer regulation that will incorporate the lessons learned while operating under the circulars.

Peer Review of Decision Documents
Engineer Circular 1105-2-408, Peer Review of Decision Documents, presents a framework for establishing the appropriate level and independence of review for decision documents covered by the circular.

The circular applies to the review of "scientific information," "influential scientific information," "scientific assessment," and "highly influential scientific assessment" as defined in the Office of Management and Budget's Final Information Quality Bulletin for Peer Review. This includes factual inputs, data, the use of models, analyses, assumptions, and other scientific and engineering matters that inform decision-making.

In the Corps, this typically includes but is not limited to: economic and environmental assumptions and projections, evaluation data, economic analyses, environmental analyses, engineering analyses (including hydrology and hydraulics, geotechnical, structural, etc.), methods for integrating risk and uncertainty and for conducting trade-offs, and the use of models in the evaluation of engineering, economic and environmental effects.

The circular does not apply to policy determinations and reviews, and agency exercise of discretionary authority that are beyond the scope of scientific and engineering peer review. Policy review remains a USACE and Army responsibility.

The Peer Review of Decision Documents circular provides guidance for when external peer review is to be added to the Corps' existing independent technical review (ITR) and legal and policy compliance review processes.

ITR is an ongoing part of the Corps' planning process intended to confirm that technical work is done in accordance with clearly established professional principles, practices, codes and criteria. A qualified person or team not involved in the day-to- day technical work supporting the development of a decision document performs ITR. Experts from other agencies, universities and consultants are often involved as well.

External peer review is added in those special cases where the risk and magnitude of a proposed project are such that a critical examination by a qualified person or team outside of the Corps -- and not involved in the day-to-day production of a technical product -- is necessary.

External peer review will be conducted to identify, explain and comment upon assumptions that underlie economic, engineering, and environmental analyses, as well as to evaluate the soundness of models and planning methods. It will also be added in cases where information is based on novel methods; presents complex challenges for interpretation; contains precedent-setting methods or models; presents conclusions that are likely to change prevailing practices; or is likely to affect policy decisions that have a significant impact.

Planning in a Collaborative Environment
Engineer Circular 1105-2-409, Planning in a Collaborative Environment, reflects improvements to the Corps' approach to water resources planning. It is designed to facilitate problem solving and decision making for specific projects as well as a more collaborative and systems-based approach to working with other federal and state agencies in developing solutions that integrate programs, policies, and projects across public agencies.

"This document is a significant update of the Corps' planning guidance," said Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works John Paul Woodley, Jr. "It reflects a watershed-level approach in examining the Nation's water resources needs and is predicated on fully collaborative efforts, in the broadest context possible, by project sponsors, state and federal agencies, and other stakeholders necessary to bring these projects to fruition."

Collaboration is the keystone of the Corps' watershed approach and is essential to the success of watershed scale planning. Collaborative planning will involve not only traditional non- federal cost sharing sponsors in partnership with the Corps, but also representatives from other federal, state and local agencies and Tribes who will bring expertise, programs and projects to study teams.

Collaborative planning in Corps studies may lead to a more coordinated and streamlined regulatory process, and in a plan with components to be implemented by the Corps and other federal, state and local agencies. The Corps will also participate as a team member in other federal, state or local agencies collaborative planning activities where there may be no expectation of Corps construction or other work.

Collaborative planning will ensure problems are solved at the proper scale with integrated agency purposes, and will more effectively leverage federal and other funds.

Engineer Circular 1105-2-408, Peer Review of Decision Documents, and Engineer Circular 1105-2-409, Planning in a Collaborative Environment, can be accessed on the web at www.usace.army.mil/publications/eng-circulars/ec-cw.html.

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