Continued: The Corps began as a tiny regiment during the Revolutionary War era; it now employs about 35,000 people to build dams, deepen harbors, dig ditches and erect seawalls, among other things. But critics say some projects are make-work boondoggles. In 2000, Corps leaders were found to have manipulated an economic study to justify a Mississippi River project that would have cost billions. The agency also launched a secret growth initiative to boost its budget by 50%. And the Pentagon found in 2000 that the Corps' cost-benefit analyses were systematically skewed to warrant large-scale construction projects. As a result, said a senior staffer with the Senate Appropriations Committee who spoke on condition of anonymity, requests by the Corps for flood control money were especially vulnerable to budget cutting. "A lot of people just look at it as pork," said the staffer. The Bush administration's former budget director, Mitch Daniels, was known as an aggressive advocate for Corps reform who cast a skeptical eye on its budget requests. "The Army Corps of Engineers has a very large budget, and it has grown a lot over recent years," Daniels, now the governor of Indiana, said. "To the extent there's been any limitation of [the Corps'] budget, it has to do with previous tendencies to build marinas and things that don't have much to do with preparing us for disaster." The Bush White House maintains it never ignored the security needs of the Gulf Coast. "Flood control has been a priority of this administration from Day One," said White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan. He said hundreds of millions of dollars were spent in the New Orleans area in recent years for flood prevention, and he said the failure of the levees was not a matter of money so much as a problem with drawing the right plans for the dike work and other improvements. "It's been more of a design issue with the levees," he said. Other administration officials said there were not enough construction companies and equipment to handle all the work that had been proposed. John Paul Woodley Jr., assistant secretary of the Army for Civil Works, who has responsibility for the Corps of Engineers, said: "It's true, we cannot accomplish all of our projects at full funding all the time. I think that's true of any agency, particularly any public works agency, but we had a lot of work underway in New Orleans, and I was personally supportive of it. "As a native of Louisiana," Woodley said, "I understand the problems associated with flooding in New Orleans. I don't think there's any lack of support for flood control projects in New Orleans, particularly within the context of other projects around the country." On Capitol Hill in recent years, several Democrats warned that more money should be marked for the protection of New Orleans. For instance, in September 2004, Landrieu said she was tired of hearing there was no money to do more work on levees. "We're told, can't do it this year. Don't have enough money. It's not a high enough priority," she said in a Senate speech. "Well, I know when it's going to get to be a high enough priority." She then told of a New Orleans emergency worker who had collected several thousand body bags in the event of a major flood. "Let's hope that never happens," she said. But in May 2004, then Senate Minority Whip Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said he had visited the levees as a guest of Landrieu and believed them adequate. He praised the ancient water pumps for keeping the waters from cascading into the city, proclaiming them "these old, old pumps that hadn't been changed since before the turn of the century, that still keep New Orleans dry." "It was as clean as a restaurant," he added. "These big old pumps work." Today, eight of those 22 pumps are underwater and inoperable. Over the years, several projects either were short-changed or never got started. The Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Project was authorized by Congress after a rainstorm killed six people in May 1995. It was to be finished in 10 years, but funding reductions prevented its completion before Katrina struck. The Army Corps of Engineers did spend $430 million to renovate pumping stations and shore up the levees. But experts said the project fell behind schedule after funding was reduced in 2003 and 2004. The Lake Pontchartrain Project was a $750-million Corps operation for new levees and beefed-up pumping stations. Because of funding cuts, it was only 80% complete when the hurricane hit. The project that never was started was an examination of storm surges from large hurricanes. Congress approved the study but did not allocate the funds for it. In May, Al Naomi, the Corps' senior project manager for the New Orleans district, reminded political and business leaders and emergency management officials that a Category 4 or 5 hurricane was always possible. After that meeting, Walter Brooks, the regional planning commission director, came away shaking his head. "We've learned that we're not as safe as we thought we were," he told the local newspaper, the Times-Picayune. Last week, Corps commander Strock defended past work, saying, it was his "personal and professional assessment" that work in New Orleans was never underfunded. What he meant by that, he explained, was that no one expected such a large disaster before all the renovations and other improvements could be completed. "That was as good as it was going to get," he said. " We knew that it would protect from a Category 3 hurricane. In fact, it has been through a number of Category 3 hurricanes." But, he said, Katrina's intensity "simply exceeded the design capacity of the levee." Asked whether in hindsight he wished more had been done, Strock said: "I really don't express surprise in my business. We don't sit around and say 'Gee whiz.' "