DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) -- U.S. Sens. Charles Grassley and Tom Harkin are calling for an investigation into a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project to expand locks and dams on the upper Mississippi River.
The Iowa senators said the corps must restore its credibility following recent accusations that it manipulated a financial study into the project.
Harkin, a Democrat, called on the Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute to check the corps' work. The institute includes Iowa State University economists. Grassley, a Republican, said the federal General Accounting Office should investigate.
Donald Sweeney, the study's original lead economist, filed an affidavit with the federal Office of Special Counsel this month accusing top corps officials of ordering changes in the financial study to gain support for the project.
The entire $50 million, seven-year feasibility study of improvements along the upper Mississippi and Illinois rivers is expected to be completed by the end of this year.
Initial reviews of the project by Sweeney's team and by a second set of economists showed the work wasn't worth the money.
''It hurts their credibility, and it ought to,'' Grassley said of the corps' actions. ''People have the right to expect government sources of information to be as accurate as possible.''
Grain interests say to keep exports competitive, the country needs to update the decades-old locks and dams.
Environmental groups say the expansion would heavily damage a river system that already was harmed critically by the original construction and barge traffic.
The corps released a statement saying the agency is dedicated to an independent review of the study and ''is committed to the integrity of the process used to determine the economic justification of projects.''
Rep. Jim Leach, R-Iowa, called the situation a very troubling episode that could ''prove deeply embarrassing to the corps.''
Leach said corps projects have been controversial but its professionalism has been above reproach.
''The charges made by Mr. Sweeney add an unfortunate new element to the debate over the future of the Mississippi, a debate that should be hallmarked by a careful balance between environmental and economic concerns,'' Leach said.
Controversy aside, Grassley said, Congress may chose to support the lock-and-dam improvements even if they appear relatively expensive because doing so would prevent railroads from getting too much power over grain shipments.
Leaders of five environmental groups -- American Rivers, Environmental Defense, National Wildlife Federation, Izaak Walton League of America and Sierra Club -- said the study could place doubt over future corps projects.
''That the Mississippi Valley Division of the Army Corps felt comfortable broadcasting (in memos) its encouragement to future planners 'not to take no for an answer' suggests at least a division culture that has lost its moorings,'' the groups said in a statement.
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