A long-simmering dispute about whether a leading engineering organization whitewashed the role of the Army Corps of Engineers in the failure of the levee system during Hurricane Katrina has broken into the open with a bitter YouTube spoof and a demand for an ethics investigation of the organization's staff.
In June, the American Society of Civil Engineers released the results of a peer review of the Defense Department-sponsored Interagency Performance Evaluation Task Force, or IPET. But critics say the review, and particularly the news release accompanying it, minimized the role of the levee failure in the flooding of the city.
The civil engineering group's most controversial claims were that much of the death and destruction would have happened even without the levee failure, and that the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet did not serve as a hurricane highway into New Orleans. Reviews by other scientific organizations were much tougher on the corps. the American Society of Civil Engineers confirmed the launch of an internal ethics probe of its staff and members based on complaints by a University of California-Berkeley professor, who served on a separate independent panel investigating levee failures.
This is not the first brush with controversy of the Berkeley engineering team:
An independent investigation of the Katrina levee failures by Seed and Berkeley Ocean Engineering professor Robert Bea was underwritten by a grant from the National Science Foundation. Underwriters hoped their findings might also help guide similar investigations of levees in the Sacramento, Calif., area.
But they ran into problems with ASCE officials soon after hitting the ground in New Orleans, after Seed and Bea granted interviews to reporters expressing early opinions about possible reasons for the failure of levees and levee walls, against the wishes of ASCE officials.
Mongan said Seed had corresponded several times with former ASCE President Bill Marcusen, and Seed's complaints grew more strident this summer.
Both Seed and Bea have been highly critical of actions taken by the corps before and after the storm. At one point, they discovered corps contractors using improper soils in rebuilding one section of levee in St. Bernard Parish, and their public disclosure of the problem resulted in the corps both replacing that section of levee and changing its standards for materials used in levees throughout the area.