The Army Corps of Engineers takes on water infrastructure-related civil works projects such as dams, levees, and more. A 2022 law allowed the Corps to use types of contracts for these projects that aren't procurement contracts, cooperative agreements, or grants. These are known as "other transaction agreements."
Corps officials said they have drafted guidance for using these agreements. However, they can't finalize this guidance until an Army-wide review of its other transaction agreement authorities is complete—which is expected in November 2023. Officials said they plan to issue their guidance as early as the end of 2023.
The Corps works on locks—structures that raise and lower boats on a river—such as this one on the Monongahela River in Pennsylvania
What GAO Found
The Water Resource Development Act of 2022 (Act) authorized the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) to use other transaction agreements to carry out certain projects to support research activities for its Civil Works program. Other transaction agreements are those other than procurement contracts, cooperative agreements, and grants. Other transaction agreements are generally not subject to the same federal laws and regulations applicable to federal contracts or financial assistance. This allows agencies to customize their other transaction agreements to help meet project requirements and mission needs.
Corps officials told GAO that they have drafted guidance for the use of other transaction agreements and that this guidance is under review by the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works. According to these officials, the draft guidance relevant to Civil Works projects is similar to existing guidance that pertains to the Corps' military program. These officials further said that an Army-wide review of the department's authorities for other transaction agreements is in progress and must be completed before the Corps can finalize its guidance.
According to an official from the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Procurement, this Army-wide review is expected to be completed in November 2023. Corps and Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works officials said they plan to issue their guidance for use of other transaction agreements for Civil Works projects as early as the end of 2023, subject to the completion of the Army-wide review.
Once guidance is in place, Corps officials said that the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center will oversee the implementation of other transaction agreements. According to Corps officials, such agreements could be used to, for example, study how automation could allow one operator to remotely operate multiple canal locks, presenting potentially significant cost savings. In another example, these agreements could be used to study different concrete mixes that produce fewer adverse environmental effects than existing materials.
Why GAO Did This Study
Located within the Department of Defense, the Corps has both military and civilian responsibilities. The Act authorized the Corps to use other transaction agreements to carry out prototype projects and follow-on production transactions to support the basic, applied, and advanced research activities of its civilian Civil Works mission. These research efforts can aid the Corps' management of water resources infrastructure including dams, levees, hurricane barriers, and floodgates across the U.S.
The Act also includes a provision for GAO to report on the Corps' use of its other transaction agreement authority for its Civil Works program. This report examines the status of the Corps' efforts to implement and use its other transaction agreement authority for its Civil Works program. To determine this information, GAO reviewed relevant Department of Defense documents and GAO reports and conducted interviews with Corps and Department of Defense officials about the status of guidance and implementation efforts.
For more information, contact Brian Bothwell at (202) 512-6888 or BothwellB@gao.gov.