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Parker says Corps has big role after attacks

WASHINGTON – The United States is facing a “new reality”following the Sept. 11 terrorists attacks and the U.S. Army Corpsof Engineers will play an important role in the country’s security,Mike Parker said Monday.

Parker, who was confirmed last week to oversee the Corps’ civilwork projects, said the agency will play an important role inhelping the administration to ensure the country’s water resourcesare safe and its dams, locks and navigable waterways are kept open.He added the agency will also be working with new Cabinet-levelHomeland Security officials as they develop strategies in responseto last month’s terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.

“I think it’s going to be a major focus for everybody,” saidParker in a telephone interview. “The reality of the world haschanged.”

For the first time, the U.S. was attacked on its own soil,Parker said. Part of the decision-making process now is todetermine how, when and what should be done following the attacksthat left thousands dead or missing and caused billions of dollarsin damage.

“It was so massive it brought all of us to a new reality,”Parker said.

Parker said his new job is very interesting, but there is a lotof work and meetings throughout the day.

“We’re trying to get up to speed on everything,” said Parker, aformer congressman who stepped down in 1998 and made anunsuccessful run for governor in 1999.

Parker said he and Corps staff are preparing the fiscal year2003 budget and dealing with the appropriations process. Mentioningpermitting and other areas, he added staff are concentrating ondeadlines and “not letting anything fall behind.”

One of the biggest problems now, though, is that many of theCorps offices were destroyed when a hijacked plane slammed into thePentagon during the Sept. 11 attacks. Parker said Corps staff wereelsewhere.

“They were having a large staff meeting down the hall soeverybody was gone,” said Parker, who was leaving the Pentagon asthe plane hit.

Corps staff have been relocated to another government building,Parker said, but their computers and work documents weredestroyed.

“It’s just a real strategical problem getting everything theyneed,” Parker said.

Parker said he and some support staff will be able to return tothe Pentagon in about a week. But the majority of Corps staff willremain displaced as recovery work continues at the Pentagon Corpsoffices.

“It’s just uninhabitable because of the asbestos and all thewater damage,” Parker said.

While security around Washington has quadrupled following theattacks, Parker said there has been no grumbling or complaints aspeople realize the importance of the measures.

“It’s just time-consuming for everybody,” said Parker, addingthat the checks are a very small price to pay compared to those whowere killed or injured in the attacks.

Parker said it was “a great honor” to be chosen for the Corpspost by President Bush and the Secretary of Defense.

“We appreciate the confidence they’ve placed in us,” Parkersaid.