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constitute Congress, or rather the committee which formulates
Another very serious evil in connection with the administration of our national public works is the criminal wastefulness that results from the uncertain and irregular manner in which appropriations are made. Instead of making the entire amount required to complete an improvement which is undertaken available at the outset, or at fixed intervals as the work progresses, these appropriations are usually doled out in driblets, and often in such a fashion that the cost of the work is largely and unnecessarily increased. Those in charge never know what they can count on. They cannot exceed the sums appropriated, and must work along as best they can, with no means of knowing whether their appropriations will be continued, largely reduced,
or discontinued entirely, by the next River and Harbor Bill. When such improvements are in progress, when the materials and machinery are on the ground, it is the very reverse of true economy to permit work to be stopped and partially completed improvements to fall into decay by reason of the discontinuance of the necessary appropriations. Yet this sometimes occurs at such a stage in the progress of the works as to leave them ill prepared to withstand the elements; the result is, that a whole season's work may have to be renewed when next an appropriation becomes available. Influenced by mistaken notions of economy, Congress is in the habit of scaling down the estimates of the engineers, and usually allows them much less than the amounts which in their judgment can be profitably expended upon the works under their charge during the coming year. All these methods are wasteful in the extreme, and many instances could be cited in which large expenditures have been almost entirely lost through such causes as I have indicated.
Viewed from the broad standpoint of the public interest, one of the worst evils resulting from the manner in which appropriations for public works are now secured is the fact that it directly encourages and leads to the most vicious legislative methods. Representatives and senators must look to and guard the local interests of their respective districts and States, for if they do not no one else will. If those who are advocating improvements of general benefit, but of especial local importance, cannot secure adequate appropriations for them upon their merits, while projects of doubtful utility or purely local advantage are cared for, the temptation to resort to the methods probably employed in behalf of the latter is certainly very strong. If those who are charged with the duty of caring for improvements of admitted public importance find them wholly ignored or inadequately provided for, they must either permit the important interests in their hands to suffer, or else be ready to enter into combinations and to make trades to secure the appropriations they deem necessary, even if this involves the support of projects which they otherwise would not approve. Such methods are demoralizing in the highest degree, not only to Congress, but to the public; whatever will tend to do away with them will be a public bless
ing. Under existing conditions local and sectional influences are sure to predominate too largely in determining the composition of the River and Harbor Bill, and they must continue to do so until a radical change is effected. It is not a matter of wonder that the improvements made should be local and diverse, that in water-ways which should form parts of a connected system the permanent works constructed should render necessary the use of boats of different classes and size, that improvements should be entered upon which are remote from any continuous navigable waters, and that expenditures should be made that merely subserve strictly local interests, and do not promote the general interests of navigation.
The obvious and common-sense remedy for the evils I have endeavored to point out would seem to be the complete transfer of the administrative functions now assumed by Congress to an organization created for the special purpose of supervising and executing all public works on rivers and harbors. Such a change would strike at the root of the evils to which attention has been invited. The vast commercial importance of an adequate system of internal improvements, and the self-evident fact that the efficiency of water-ways is greatly increased when improve. ments are made with a view to forming connected and continuous navigable routes, certainly afford ample justification for the creation of a special agency charged with the single duty of planning, proposing, and constructing such a system of public works as the interests of commerce and of the nation demand. An organization of this character, whose members were given a tenure, rank, and compensation that would enlist the service of the best engineering talent, and who would be in a position to make the subject of internal improvements their life work, would command the confidence of Congress and of the country; and it would assuredly perform the functions assigned to it in a much more satisfactory manner than Congress or its committees can possibly do under the most favorable conditions.
Instead of having projected improvements originate in Congress, with little regard to their relations to each other or to commerce or to any general plan, as is now the case, they ought to be first carefully passed upon separately and as a whole by
the different divisions of the proposed bureau; and then, if recommended, submitted to Congress for approval and the requisite appropriations, accompanied with all needful information as to the general and relative value to commerce of each project, and with detailed estimates, plans, and specifications for its completion. Under any plan of this kind it is hardly possible that appropriations for undiscoverable creeks and bayous could creep into the River and Harbor Bill. Under such a plan the most objectionable features of the River and Harbor Bill would disappear. Under such a plan, with all the preliminary work carefully performed, and with all available information at its command, Congress could and would make up its bills more intelligently and more satisfactorily. Under such a plan the reasons for each improvement undertaken would be known to the public, and the River and Harbor Bill would command its confidence. Under such a plan the improvements of the greatest importance and most urgent necessity would first receive consideration, and would, in all probability, be first provided for. Finally, and most important of all, under such a plan the works undertakenwould be calculated to promote the general interests of commerce and navigation rather than those of sections or localities.
The adoption of such a plan would not be a new and untried experiment. It is the policy pursued by some of the leading European nations, and its results have been found eminently satisfactory. In the attention given to the development of a complete and effective system of national public works, and in the methods of administration adopted with respect to such improvements, the United States are far behind nations like France, Prussia, and Italy. The best European system of national public works is probably that of Prussia, which combines with the most carefully guarded methods of administration a thorough education and training in theoretical and practical engineering on the part of the officials in charge of all public works.
In Prussia all civil works are under the charge of a department presided over by the Minister of Public Works. The entire system is distinctively a civil one. Appointments in that department can be secured only by taking a prescribed course
of study, and by serving an apprenticeship in practical engineering work in a subordinate position without compensation. Aspirants are obliged to devote eight years to the preparatory study and training necessary to fulfill the requirements of the several examinations before a permanent appointment can be obtained; but when it is obtained the successful candidate is secure in his position, and should he retire at any time after getting into office he is entitled to a pension not exceeding seveneighths of the salary he receives. The officials of the department are organized into district and provincial boards and a central bureau. As a rule, all projects for new improvements originate with the resident district officials, and, when formulated and approved by the district board, are forwarded to the provincial board for examination. That body either returns them for further examination or alteration, or, if approved, sends them up for final examination to the central bureau, by which they are considered carefully, and either referred back for changes, approved for execution, or disapproved entirely. Occasionally this order is reversed, and the central bureau causes outline plans for improvements to be prepared, which are forwarded to the local officials for investigation and elaboration, and are then similarly passed upon. All projects suggested in the legislative assembly or by others are referred to the department, and take the same course. The central bureau is composed of a number of high government officials, and in the consideration of all projects of importance the final examinations and recommendations are not made by any one official, but by the whole board, after which the final decision rests with the Minister of Public Works, who is the responsible head of the department.
After such a thorough investigation of every improvement recommended, the Minister of Public Works prepares each year a budget containing detailed plans for, and estimates of, the cost of all proposed improvements. With these he goes before the committees of the legislative body, and presents for their con sideration well-digested proposals, with all the information concerning them that is needful to enable the committees to pass upon them intelligently. A fixed sum is appropriated annually for all the river and harbor works in progress, and this is