A New Orleans-based, grassroots group claimed last week that records it obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show that “as early as October 2005, The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers directed the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) and later paid the group more than $1.1 million for their peer review of the [Interagency Performance Evaluation Taskforce (IPET)] and for giving [PowerPoint] seminars which contained at least 10 falsehoods, four significant omissions, and numerous misrepresentations.” The group, Levees.Org—with a stated mission of “education that metro New Orleans was destroyed not by a natural disaster [Hurricane Katrina], but by the worst engineering failure in the world since Chernobyl”—previously called on the ASCE to conduct an ethics investigation into allegations of wrongdoing and collusion with the Corps.
“We strongly feel these [PowerPoints] presented by ASCE staffers at engineering colleges, universities, and conferences both nationwide and abroad were essentially ’spin campaigns’ cleverly crafted to understate and minimize the U.S. Army Corps’ role in the disastrous flooding on Aug. 29, 2005,” said Sandy Rosenthal, founder of Levees.Org.
In a March 27 letter to members, ASCE President David G. Mongon, P.E., F.ASCE, said that the association asked former Congressman Sherwood Boehlert to lead a task force to examine ASCE’s procedures and policies for conducting engineering studies and investigations of national significance. The task force is expected to complete its investigation by the end of April 2008 and make its recommendations public.
Also, said Mongon, ASCE’s standing Committee on Professional Conduct (CPC) is reviewing specific allegations. Mongon said comment on the CPC’s review would be “premature and inappropriate” until it is complete. “We have committed to making its findings public and taking whatever action is appropriate,” he said.
On its website, the ASCE provides the scope of work for the grant received from the Corps, a breakdown of cost allocations for the ASCE’s Katrina study, as well as study results and presentations. The ASCE says that it paid all expenses associated with presentations to professional groups, engineering students, and other groups.
Allegations against ASCE stem in part from a 42-page letter written in October 2007 by Raymond Seed, Ph.D., professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of California-Berkeley, and head of the Independent Levee Investigation Team funded by the National Science Foundation, to William F. Marcuson, III, Ph.D., P.E., Hon.M.ASCE, then president of ASCE. “Three precious things were lost to Hurricane Katrina,” Seed wrote. “One was the city of New Orleans; a more tragic loss than many have yet fully appreciated as the prospects for eventual recovery continue to dim. The second was a blow to the public’s perception of the civil engineering profession, and their confidence in our ability to suitably protect them. And the third was a loss of integrity within the profession in the aftermath of the initial disaster; a profoundly important loss led in no small part by the two most important civil engineering agencies/institutions in the world.”
According to an Associated Press report, U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu (D-La.) intends to introduce legislation to set up a commission with subpoena power to investigate levee failures during Katrina. Levees.Org has long supported establishing an “8/29 Commission” (Hurricane Katrina hit on Aug. 29, 2005) modeled after the 9/11 Commission.