Dating back to 1775 under George Washington’s command, engineer officers were appointed in the army. It wasn’t until March 1802 that the U.S. Army established the Corps of Engineers as a separate, permanent branch and gave the engineers responsibility for founding and operating the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Engineers have served in combat for all subsequent American wars thereafter.
Since then, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) has responded to changing defense requirements and played an integral part in the development of the country. Throughout the 19th century, the agency built coastal fortifications, surveyed roads and canals, eliminated navigational hazards and constructed buildings and monuments in the Nation’s capital.
According to the USACE, from the beginning, many politicians wanted the group to contribute to both military construction and works “of a civil nature.” Throughout the 19th century, they supervised the construction of coastal reinforcements and mapped much of the American West with the Corps of Topographical Engineers, which had a separate existence for 25 years from 1838 to 1863. The organization also constructed lighthouses, helped develop jetties and piers for harbors, and carefully mapped the navigation channels.
In the 20th century, they became the lead federal flood control agency and expanded their civil works functions. Their role in responding to natural disasters also grew during this time.
Assigned the military construction mission in 1941, the USACE built facilities at home and abroad to support the U.S. Army and Air Force. Along with managing construction programs during the Cold War, the USACE also completed large construction activities for federal agencies such as NASA and the postal service. The USACE also maintains a research and development program in support of its water resources, construction, and military activities.
In the late 1960s, the USACE became a leading environmental preservation and restoration agency. It now carries out natural and cultural resource management programs at its water resources projects and regulates activities in the Nation’s wetlands. In addition, they assist the military services in environmental management and restoration at former and current military installations.
One of the most prominent programs of the USACE is its Flood Risk Management Program (FRMP), which focuses on the policies, programs, and expertise of USACE toward reducing overall flood risk. This includes the appropriate use and resiliency of structures such as levees and floodwalls, as well as promoting alternatives when other approaches reduce the risk of loss of life, reduce long-term economic damages to the public and private sector, and improve the natural environment.