Whose side are they on?

In November 2005, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers asked the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) to peer review the work of the Interagency Performance Evaluation Task Force (IPET), which was a group the Corps commissioned—yes, even now this sounds strange that the Corps would be allowed to authorize this and not an independent panel—to assess the performance of the hurricane protection system in New Orleans and southeastern Louisiana.

When ASCE released its report, it was accompanied by a press release, which, according to local Corps-watchdog group, Levees.org, contained a number of falsehoods. Most glaring and egregious of these was that 686 of the 1,118 deaths in New Orleans following the hurricane would have occurred regardless of whether the levees failed or not. That statement flies in the face of the Corps-sponsored IPET report, which stated nearly two-thirds of the deaths would have been avoided if the levees had held.

After lengthy discussions between officials from ASCE, Levees.org, and local ASCE members, the offensive press release was removed from the ASCE website. According to Levees.org, ASCE national president Dr. William Marcuson has refused to print a formal retraction of the error-laden press release. Dr. Marcuson also serves as Director Emeritus of the Geotechnical Laboratory at the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC) in Vicksburg, Miss. No conflict of interest there, huh?

Even before ASCE published its report in June, the ASCE peer review panel took a little time out from their task to attend an award ceremony held on their behalf and hosted by...the Corps of Engineers.

Where does this leave New Orleans? It leaves us still looking for a truly independent comprehensive analysis of the levee failures in metro New Orleans. Sandy Rosenthal, executive director of Levees.org, states that an 8/29 investigation says without that the levees catastrophe will never be fully understood.

"South Louisiana deserves it and the nation's taxpayers deserve it, too," Rosenthal says.