LOS ANGELES – Dr. Wen-Huei Chang, a water resources economist from the Institute of Water Services, left the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Los Angeles District Aug. 22 after working with three of the District’s divisions on temporary assignment for nearly five months.
“In addition to valuable hands-on experiences he received in the District, his IWR work will facilitate [District] personnel participation in two-to-four-month career development assignments for enhancing the intellectual exchange between the field and Washington DC,” said Carvel Bass, a District ecologist with the Civil Works Branch. “Those of us who have worked with Wen both before and during his stay here, have benefitted and will continue to benefit from his expertise and will continue so.”
Chang came to the District Apr. 1 from his office in Ft. Belvoir, Va. for a developmental assignment. After some debate with his supervisor at IWR – Chang was requesting two months for the assignment and his boss was trying to tell him he needed six to make the assignment worthwhile – he came to the Los Angeles District office.
“I’ve been working on a lot of national high-profile projects; but, I had never worked in the field,” Chang said. “I always felt like there was a need to get some real-life hands-on experience that happens in the field. If you ask me why, I picked LA, I wanted to go to a district that had enough of a diversified program so I could observe as much information as I could.”
Chang said he was impressed by the assortment of responsibilities the members of the LA District team faced on a regular basis. In looking for which District to work with, he wanted to make sure he found an area with coastal and deep-draft navigation missions and he wanted to work with flood-risk management programs. He said those programs made up nearly 2/3 of the Corps’ civil works budget.
During his time in the District, Chang worked with Asset Management, Planning and PPMD divisions. The majority of his time was spent on continuing IWR-related projects in the District. Bass said Chang also worked in operations and maintenance in Navigation and assisted with flood risk management, environmental stewardship and recreation management projects.
“He was critical to the development of [Environmental Stewardship Budget Evaluation SysTem] and [Recreation Budget Evaluation SysTem] budgeting and is an expert in these two programs,” Bass said. “So having him here during the Fiscal Year 2014 O&M ENS and REC budget formulation was a great opportunity.”
Bass said Chang was instrumental in completing the Watershed-Based Budgeting pilot study. The pilot study took into account Chang’s notion that federal agencies, like IWR and the Corps of Engineers, can work better with local sponsors if information affecting local sponsors was considered when looking at a project’s overall consequences and benefits. The District team sent the study forward to USACE headquarters as a package from the South Pacific Division.
“I worked with Eileen Takata and brought in a team from IWR to help the district use the tools we developed at IWR,” Chang said. “We were able to group [the budgets] together to look at them from a watershed perspective among projects, business lines and watershed projects. It shows us the interdependency of our projects and the projects of the local sponsor. Using that information, we’re trying to achieve what works best for our projects and provides benefit for the local sponsor.”
He said he will be taking that insight back with him to headquarters. He plans to work to bridge the “disconnect” between the agencies responsible for the budgeting and the agencies who are out doing the work to benefit communities across the country. Chang said he enjoyed working on the relationship between “the field and DC” and wished he had more time to work here. Although he misses his family, he understands the value in field assignments.
“When I was discussing my assignment to the district with my director, I said I could go for two months,” Chang recalled. “He said no, two months is not enough. You have to go for six month. We finally came up with four months for the assignment. A month into the assignment, I realized Bob was right. You really need to have a six-month timeframe to really get involved in a meaningful way. Based on my experience, I really encourage anyone to pursue career-development assignments and to make sure they are at least six months.”
At a farewell gathering, Col. Mark Toy, the LA District commander, presented Chang with a command coin and a certificate which read in part, the District’s appreciation for Chang’s “outstanding leadership, dedication and technical expertise for the Asset Management, the Programs and Project Management, and the Planning Divisions and in the development of the FY14 Watershed-Based Budget Pilot Proposal for the Santa Ana River Watershed. Dr. Chang currently provides technical and budgeting support within the Natural Resources Management Program. His national perspective in all of these areas has been an invaluable asset to the District.”
Chang said he will be taking two district personnel with him back to IWR to work the same projects at the headquarters level that they currently work at the field level.
“The idea is that we can really pick their brains and gain valuable knowledge form the District by bringing them to the IWR,” he explained. “We will gain the valuable field experience that is sort of lacking in DC. We would like to continue the relationship by continuing the study and sharing people back and forth. It was a wonderful experience for me and I’m sure it will be a wonderful experience for people going to IWR.”