Spotlight: USACE

Which federal agency is the world’s largest public engineering, design and construction management agency? The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (also known as USACE or simply “the Corps”) is made up of some 37,000 civilian and military personnel delivering engineering services to customers in more than 90 countries worldwide. Although we typically associate it with canals, dams and other flood protection facilities in the United States, USACE is involved in a wide range of public works activities throughout the world. It also provides 24% of U.S. hydropower capacity. President Obama’s FY 2013 budget request for USACE included $4.731 billion in discretionary funding for the Civil Works program, a 5.4% decrease from the FY 2012 enacted level.

George Washington appointed the first engineer officers of the Army on June 16, 1775, during the American Revolution. The Army established the Corps as a separate, permanent branch on March 16, 1802, and made it responsible for founding and operating the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Throughout the 19th century, the Corps built coastal fortifications, surveyed roads and canals, eliminated navigational hazards (in part by building lighthouses, jetties and piers), explored and mapped the Western frontier and constructed buildings and monuments in Washington, D.C. From its beginnings, it has contributed to both military and civil construction. In the 20th century, the Corps became the lead federal flood control agency and significantly expanded its civil works activities. During the Cold War, it managed construction programs for U.S. allies, including a massive effort in Saudi Arabia. It also completed major construction programs for federal agencies such as NASA and the U.S. Postal Service.

Since the end of the Cold War, USACE’s roles in responding to natural disasters and in environmental management and restoration have grown dramatically. It now works with other federal, state, local, and foreign government agencies to provide support in domestic and international emergencies such as last year’s floods in the Mississippi River Valley and the tsunami in Japan, as well as the 2010 Gulf Coast oil spill and the earthquake in Haiti. The Corps also supported 9/11 recovery efforts and continues to play a role in the Global War on Terrorism, including reconstruction efforts now underway in Iraq and Afghanistan.

USACE is divided into nine divisions, which are headquartered in Atlanta (South Atlantic Division); Cincinnati (Great Lakes and Ohio River Division); Dallas (Southwestern Division); Honolulu (Pacific Ocean Division, which includes Korea and Japan); Philadelphia (Atlantic Division); Portland, Ore. (Northwestern Division); San Francisco (South Pacific Division); Vicksburg, Miss. (Mississippi Valley Division); and Winchester, Va. (where the Transatlantic Division—which includes the Europe, Middle East, and two Afghanistan districts—is based). Its U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC), headquartered in Vicksburg, operates research laboratories there and in Champaign, Ill., and Hanover, N.H., as well as the Topographic Engineering Center in Alexandria, Va.