William R. Gianelli, assistant secretary of the Army for public works, set up a task force shortly after taking office to simplify the process the Corps of Engineers must follow to issue a permit allowing fill to be dumped in "navigable waters." One of problems is that navigable waters have come to be defined by courts as almost anything wet, but to change that would require action by Congress and the administration does not appear anxious to paddle upstream on that.

That leaves memoranda of understanding the Corps has with the Interior Department and the Environmental Protection Agency, which can appeal at several bureaucratic levels once the Corps announces it intends to issue a permit. Now, the Presidential Task Force on Regulatory Relief has told Gianelli to prepare new memoranda that would eliminate reviews at so many levels, expand use of general permits and delegate more authority for permit decisions to states. The Corps' district engineer's announced intention to issue a permit could be reviewed only upon recommendation of Washington-level officials at EPA and Interior, and they would have only 15 days to act. Some permits now take years; the new guidance would take a maximum of 120 days. Environmental groups worry that a hurried-up process will result in bad decisions. The Office of Management and Budget will still have to review whatever Gianelli and the other agencies draft.