Corps to delay cost-cutting plan in Oklahoma until fall

Thursday, May 2nd 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TULSA, Okla. (AP) _ The U.S Army Corps of Engineers is delaying plans to cut jobs and close offices in its Tulsa district until this fall, heeding a request from members of Oklahoma's congressional delegation.

The corps and U.S. Rep. Wes Watkins said Thursday that the cost-cutting measures will be postponed until at least October, when Congress completes next year's budget.

Last month, the corps announced it would trim 126 jobs in its Tulsa district, which oversees lakes in Oklahoma, and close six of its 11 area offices and 11 of its 24 lake offices.

The corps blamed anticipated federal budget cuts and said it needed to save money for future repairs to aging dams and facilities at its 33 lakes.

But Watkins and fellow Oklahoma Republican Reps. J.C. Watts and Frank Lucas objected, saying the corps had not properly consulted them on the plan. The lawmakers sent corps officials a letter asking them to delay the cuts until Congress finishes its budget work.

The cuts ``were unjustified until the final budget and appropriations figures for fiscal year 2003 are known, which should be in October,'' Watkins said Thursday.

The corps' plan also caused concerns among business owners, community leaders and lake users about the impact on recreation at Oklahoma lakes.

Watkins also said he asked the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee this week to include emergency funding for the corps' Tulsa district in a spending bill under consideration this spring.

The spending bill was requested by President Bush to fund the war on terror and homeland security, but Watkins hopes money for the corps can be included, said Watkins' chief of staff Paul Ziriax.

Watkins said Lt. Gen. Robert B. Flowers, the corps commander and chief of engineers, also assured him that no workers would be laid off in any future restructuring.

``That was the original intent,'' said corps spokesman Ross Adkins. ``They've just reinforced that quite a bit.''

When the corps announced the plan in March, it said it hoped to avoid layoffs by eliminating empty jobs and offering employees early retirement. It also planned to cut vehicles, office space and equipment.

Adkins said the corps may still implement the plan if next year's budget doesn't include enough money to complete a ``backlog of maintenance'' that includes 50-year-old wiring at dams.

``The form of the plan is not abandoned, but it's been tabled,'' Adkins said. ``We've got a lot of large infrastructure out there that are aging and we have to take care of those problems.''