The Vertical Team
A feasibility study and ultimately a recommendation of the Chief of Engineers for a water resources project will benefit from routine vertical team engagement throughout the study.
Although the exact makeup of the vertical team may vary from study to study depending on the complexity and scope of the study, it will include decision-makers and technical expertise from the District, Major Subordinate Command (MSC) and Headquarters. A study’s typical vertical team may include:
- Headquarters representatives, which may include Office of Water Project Review (OWPR) economics, environmental, and/or plan formulation expertise and technical expertise from Engineering & Construction, the Institute for Water Resources, or other Civil Works operations.
- MSC representatives include the MSC Planning Chief and other experts. For example, a deep draft navigation study may include the plan formulation, navigation, economics, environmental and engineering MSC experts. As the MSC’s representative at Headquarters, the Regional Integration Team (RIT) provides a single point of contact for the MSC at Headquarters; they also are responsible for processing all work products requiring Headquarters-level review.
- Representatives from the appropriate Planning Centers of Expertise (PCX) can provide subject-matter expertise and experience.
Vertical team coordination and agreement on each study’s progress and continued advancement is intended to make better use of appropriate Corps personnel and resources throughout a study. Corps studies traditionally have advanced through required decision points by completing sequential reviews involving the submission by Districts of interim technical products and draft feasibility report materials, review of those materials by MSC and HQUSACE staff in addition to other required reviews, followed by detailed exchange of written comments and responses. In an attempt to avoid or minimize the time and expense of these reviews, the new feasibility study process requires active communication and integration of key vertical team members prior to key study decisions, focusing on the decisions made to move the study ahead.
The Corps of Engineers uses several review processes to ensure the quality and credibility of documents and work products, including feasibility studies. The Civil Works Review policy (Engineer Circular 1165-2-217) outlines the Agency Technical Review, Independent External Peer Review, and District Quality Control/Quality Assurance (DQC) processes, while District and MSC quality management plans further define regional procedures. The engagement of the vertical team in the study complements – but does not replace – review processes. In most cases, members of the vertical team will have formal review responsibilities (e.g., for DQC, MSC QA, and policy and legal compliance review) and decision-making authority for a study (e.g., the MSC Planning and Policy Chief, MSC Programs Directorate Chief, Chief of the Office of Water Project Review, and the HQ Chief of Planning and Policy).
Although the vertical team should be kept up to date on project development between milestones, the vertical team has a very specific role - to identify, address, and resolve issues critical to the study early in the process. Not all members of the vertical team will have the same level of engagement at each point during the study. Specifically:
- At the beginning of the study, usually during a Planning Charette or In Progress Review (IPR), participation by members of the vertical team provides a common starting point for the study, including an agreement on the problems and opportunities, the decision criteria that will be used going forward, and key areas of uncertainty the study will address.
- At the Alternatives Milestone, the vertical team reviews and concurs with the study scope, the summary inventory and forecast baseline and future conditions for further evaluation, the array of alternatives going forward into alternatives analysis, the criteria that will be used to evaluate and compare those alternatives. At this point, the vertical team should also concur there is a federal interest that is aligned with the study authority in addressing the problem.
- After the Project Delivery Team (PDT) has evaluated and compared alternatives and is prepared to put forward a Tentatively Selected Plan, the vertical team reaches the Tentatively Selected Plan (TSP) Milestone. At this point, in person or virtually, the vertical team agrees to the reasoning behind the selection of the TSP. After this Milestone and following DQC of the study documents, the HQUSACE Chief of the Office of Water Project Review would release the draft feasibility study report and draft Environmental Impact Statement or Environmental Assessment document for concurrent public and agency review, including agency technical, legal, and policy reviews, and IEPR if needed.
- Before the Agency Decision Milestone, the vertical team has worked with the PDT to understand and resolve any policy, technical, and legal issues that were raised during public and agency reviews.
- Before the final report is transmitted to Headquarters, the vertical team has continued to engage with the PDT, as needed, on more detailed analyses that support the agency recommended plan. If policy, legal, or significant technical issues arise, the vertical team helps resolve them. Before the final report is released for State and Agency Review, the Deputy Commanding General of Civil and Emergency Operations (DCG-CEO) will convene a Civil Works Review Board; participation in this meeting will generally include both the PDT and members of the vertical team that have been engaged in the study.