Army Corps of Engineers, U.S.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has provided vital indirect support to business enterprises through its work supporting the nation’s infrastructure, most notably waterways and harbors, and has been a major employer in the construction industry.

Since its establishment by Congress in 1802, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) has played an important role in the growth and sustainability of American business. InfrastructureEarly in the nineteenth century, USACE officers were instrumental in mapping areas between the Mississippi River and the Pacific coast, facilitating the settlement of the West. In 1824, the USACE was assigned to improve navigation on America’s rivers. That mission was expanded after the U.S. Civil War to include construction of levees and again in 1936, when the USACE was made responsible for nationwide flood control. During the early nineteenth century, the USACE built defenses at many of the nation’s harbors, and over time, the agency took on the task of ensuring the safety and navigability of the country’s key ports. The USACE’s work has made it possible for American businesses to transport goods by water and operate safely on land near major waterways without undue concern for flooding.Army Corps of Engineers, U.S.

A worker from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers surveys the scene four days after the terrorist attacks on the New York City World Trade Center.

(U.S. Army Corps of Engineers)

In 1925, Congress authorized the USACE to develop Electric power industryhydroelectric power stations. By the end of the century, the agency was operating seventy-five plants, providing one-fifth of the nation’s hydroelectric power. During World War II, the USACE constructed facilities for the Manhattan Project, the government’s program to develop the first nuclear weapon. Techniques developed on this project became useful to civilian firms building nuclear power facilities after the war.

In 1970, the USACE was assigned responsibility for environmental management of hundreds of areas adjacent to waterways and for cleanup of numerous sites contaminated by toxic waste. For these projects, USACE officials contracted with civilian firms specializing in work of this nature. During the twentieth century, the USACE developed partnerships with the National Park Service and various states to provide recreational activities on hundreds of lakes and rivers. In 2007, the USACE was employing approximately 600,000 workers to operate these sites, which were visited by millions of Americans each year.

By 2000, the USACE had become the largest public-engineering and construction-management agency in the world. Its responsibilities included levee construction and repair, flood control, shore protection, disaster response, construction and maintenance of facilities at Army and Air Force installations, environmental protection, and toxic-waste cleanup. The USACE also sponsored research and development activities in areas such as engineering design for building construction, infrastructure, and management of coastal and riverine operations. Most of its annual civil-works budget, approximately $5 billion during the early twenty-first century, was allocated to pay private firms to carry out this work, generating a significant source of revenue for those businesses.

Further Reading

  • The History of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Arlington, Va.: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 1998.
  • Mazmanian, Daniel A., and Jeanne Nienaber. Can Organizations Change? Environmental Protection, Citizen Participation, and the Corps of Engineers. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution, 1979.
  • Morgan, Arthur E. Dams and Other Disasters: A Century of the Army Corps of Engineers in Civil Works. Boston: Porter Sargent, 1971.


Dams and aqueducts


Military-industrial complex

Mississippi and Missouri Rivers

Public utilities