Historical Analysis of the U.S. Army Corps of EngineersCase Study

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¶ … U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Statement of the Purpose:

The purpose of this case study is to provide a description of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers a chronological summary of key events in its history, an evaluation of its effectiveness in achieving its ever-changing mission and lessons learned from these experiences. One of the primary strengths of the case study methodology is that a given topic can be investigated in depth and with greater attention to details that might be of interest to the researcher compared to other types of qualitative research (Leedy, 1997).

Formally established as a separate, permanent branch of the armed forces on March 16, 1802, the Corps was initially tasked with building and operating the U.S. Military Academy (West Point), but its mission has since expanded enormously, particularly since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Today, the overarching mission of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (hereinafter alternatively USACE or "the Corps") is to "stand ready to support the country's military and water resources needs in the 21st century as it has done during its more than two centuries of service" (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers history, 2015). Likewise, according to Shuler (2009), the stated purpose of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to "provide vital public engineering services in peace and war to strengthen our nation's security, engage the economy and reduce risks from disasters" (p. 38).

Since its founding, the Corps has been tasked with both civil and military construction projects and other initiatives, but given the importance of their efforts in developing and sustaining the nation's infrastructure, it is frequently difficult to separate their efforts into these distinct categories. For instance, a former commanding general of the Corps, Lieutenant General Robert L. Van Antwerp, reports that, "The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has responded to changing defense requirements and played an integral part in the development of the country" (2008, p. 182).

The vast majority of the projects undertaken by the Corps are enormously complex and time-consuming (Fredlund, 2009). In fact, the majority of the American public remains largely unaware of the scope of the Corps' projects throughout the United States and abroad (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers history, 2015). For instance, according to the Corps' Web site, "USACE is responsible for thousands of buildings and facilities, roads, railroads, bridges, locks, dams, levees, hydropower plants and more" (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers history, 2015, para. 4). It is also important to note that although the organizational structure Corps of Engineers' appears to be heavily bureaucratic, the organization is fairly decentralized in practice and it has been highly effective in the delivery of support services to the nation's civil and military sectors (Willingham, 2009).


Chronology of the Case Study:

As noted above, since its inception in 1802, the Corps has made major contributions to military construction projects as well as projects that were "of a civil nature" (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers history, 2015, para. 3). The projects completed by the Corps during the 19th century reflected these origins, and the organization helped construct a series of lighthouses and coastal defenses and helped map a majority of the Western frontier (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers history, 2015). In addition, Van Antwerp (2008) adds that, "Throughout the 19th century, the Corps built coastal fortifications, surveyed roads and canals, eliminated navigational hazards, explored and mapped the Western frontier, and constructed buildings and monuments in the Nation's capital" (p. 182). In addition, the Corps constructed piers and jetties and mapped navigation channels to facilitate maritime transportation throughout the 19th century (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers history, 2015).

During the 20th century, the Corps assumed primary responsibility for federal flood control and its mission expanded to include civil works activities (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers history, 2015). In the process, the Corps' contributions also expanded to include becoming a major supplier of hydroelectric energy and recreational resources (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers history, 2015). During this period, the Corps' mission further expanded to include natural disaster responses (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers history, 2015). Among the major projects completed prior to the end of World War II were facilities constructed to support the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Army. After World War II, the Corps was responsible for an enormous development effort in Saudi Arabia, as well as construction projects for the U.S. Postal Service and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers history, 2015). Following the end of World War II, the Corps' activities expanded significantly once again. For instance, according to the Corps' Web site, after World War II, "The Corps built VA hospitals; Nike, Atlas, Titan, and Minuteman missile sites; NASA facilities, including the massive vehicle assembly building at Cape Kennedy; post offices and bulk mail facilities; armed forces recruiting centers [and] also experimented with various kinds of shore protection" (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers history, 2015, para. 6). The Corps has also trained more than 12,000 from developing nations since 1957 (Pillifant, 2009).

In addition, pursuant to its expanded natural resource mission, the Corp has also been active on the research front in support of civil and military activities (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers history, 2015). In fact, during the late 1960s, the Corps became more active in environmental preservation and restoration and is currently responsible for natural and cultural resource management programs at its water resources projects and for the regulation of wetland activities (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers history, 2015). Further, the Corps has assumed responsibility for facilitating the restoration and environmental management of deactivated and active military installations (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers history, 2015).

Despite these contributions, there was growing environmental opposition to some of the projects undertaken by the Corps during the 1960s. In this regard, Hamilton (2002) reports that, "By the 1960s, the cheers were muffled by jeers from people concerned about the dark side of the Corps' triumphs: rivers imprisoned, wetlands lost, canyons flooded. (Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas once went so far as to call the Corps 'public enemy number one')" (p. 72). In response, during the 1970s, the Corps became more responsive to environmental issues and local resident concerns and committed itself to "giving environmental values the full consideration that is their due" (cited in Hamilton, 2002, p. 72). Throughout the remainder of the 20th century, the Corps became increasingly involved in the management of the nation's wetlands, including the dams and other resources that comprise this system (Van Antwerp, 2008).

Beyond the foregoing contributions, the Corps has also been tasked with a wide range of complex construction projects in other countries during the second half of the 20th century that are part of the nation's foreign policy. For example, the Corp constructed roads in Iran, Afghanistan and other countries in the Middle East and constructed Air Force bases in Israel as part of the Camp David accords (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers history, 2015). In addition, Corps engineers provided support services and constructed highways, airports and ports in eight different foreign countries from 1959 to 1964: Afghanistan, Burma, British Guiana, Iran, Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the Somali Republic totaling nearly $110 million (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers history, 2015).

Pursuant to the terms of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, the Corps has also been active in constructing major infrastructure development projects in Saudi Arabia in coordination with the U.S. Department of State's Agency for International Development on a reimbursable basis (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers history, 2015). During the period between 1976 and 1986, these projects totaled more than $14 billion, which represented the most expensive construction programs in the Corps' history (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers history, 2015). In addition, the Corps also performed reimbursable work in Iran, Jordan, Kuwait, and Libya which typically included transportation networks such as road or airport construction (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers history, 2015).

After the turn of the 21st century, the Corps' activities expanded once again to include taking an active role in the global war on terrorism that included facilities reconstruction in Afghanistan and Iraq (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers history, 2015). Further, the Corps also entered into a partnering agreement with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization-Institute for Water Education (UNESCO-IWE) in March 2002 to collaborate on research, development and improvement of the nation's water resources as well as to promote safe, economical, efficient and environmentally sound management practices (Pillifant, 2009). According to Pillifant, "The partnership is a demonstration in not only international partnerships, but also an example of the USACE's efforts to invite experts from a variety of backgrounds to accomplish the universal goal of providing a comprehensive approach to safety and education" (2009, p. 82).

In 2007, the Corps's Alaska district constructed the world-class Bassett Army Community Hospital at Fort Wainwright, Alaska and the Southern Cross junior noncommissioned officer housing project for the U.S. Army Alaska at Fort Wainwright, an initiative that resulted in the Alaska district winning… [END OF PREVIEW]

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