Lawmakers blast Bush for firing of official

Friday, March 8, 2002

WASHINGTON -- House lawmakers said Thursday their former colleague, Mike Parker, was fired as civilian head of the Army Corps of Engineers because of his honesty in predicting Congress would not allow the administration's proposed cuts in water project spending.

Democratic Rep. Gene Taylor, a fellow Mississippian, said Parker simply told the truth: that the administration "purposely low-balled the budget" knowing that Congress, a staunch supporter of Army Corps projects, would restore the money.

Parker, an assistant secretary of the Army, was fired Wednesday, a week after he told the Senate Budget Committee that proposed cuts could hurt Corps efforts and that he expected that the final budget approved by Congress would be higher.

President Bush's plan for the 2003 budget year cuts the Corps' budget by 10 percent to $4.175 billion, excluding federal retirees' pensions and benefits. The Corps had requested more than $6 billion.

The plan includes a 16 percent reduction in the construction budget. A House Transportation Committee analysis said that would cause the termination of at least 64 contracts that employ 8,600 people. It would cost $190 million to eliminate these projects.

, the committee said.

"If the Corps is limited in what it does for the American people, there will be a negative impact," Parker told the Senate. He added that the budget process had only started and that in the end Congress, strongly supportive of Corps projects because of the money they bring to home states, would have its say.

Rep. William Pascrell, D-N.J., at a Transportation subcommittee hearing Wednesday on the effects of cuts to the Corps budget, said it was "most incredible" that Parker was fired and "it will only make us more resolved in our efforts."

Democrats were the most critical, but Rep. John Duncan, R-Tenn., chairman of the water resources and environment subcommittee, said he was disappointed that Parker's "honestly expressed concerns made it necessary for him to resign."

Parker, 52, the Corps' civilian administrator for civil projects, is the first visible high-level political appointee in the Bush administration to be dismissed. A five-term congressman, he switched from the Democratic to Republican Party in 1995 and lost a tight race for governor of Mississippi in 1999.

Critics of the Army Corps say it has been riddled with pork barrel projects and that it is a natural target for savings as Bush seeks to channel money into national security and the war on terrorism. In 2000, an Army inspector general alleged that top Corps officials had altered a cost-benefit analysis to justify a $1 billion construction project on the Mississippi and Illinois rivers.

Steve Ellis of Taxpayers for Common Sense told the House hearing that the administration was right in cutting the construction budget because the Corps has a $52 billion backlog and "over the years the Corps has solicited and received projects that far exceed the scope of its primary missions."

On the other hand, Martin Pagliughi, mayor of Avalon, N.J., and representative of the American Coastal Coalition, said the budget proposal was "well beyond the kind of cuts appropriate to reflect the post-Sept. 11 needs" and "would greatly affect numerous states, hundreds of communities, wildlife habitat as well as much-needed revenue for all levels of government."

Parker's departure followed the resignation last week of Eric Schaeffer, director of civil enforcement for the Environment Protection Agency, who accused the administration of stifling efforts to reduce air pollution from old refineries, coal-burning power plants and industrial boilers.


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