Who We Are

The Ecosystem Restoration Planning Center of Expertise (ECO-PCX) is based in the Mississippi Valley Division with a virtual team from across the nation that provides ecosystem restoration planning services to civil works study teams throughout the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The ECO-PCX leverages a 13-member virtual team with a large network of ad hoc technical experts that can provide specialized assistance with ecosystem restoration planning. The current ECO-PCX virtual team is:

Director Dr. Kelly Keefe
Operating Director Dr. Kat McCain (acting)
Account Managers for each Major Subordinate Command  
LRD Sierra Keenan
NAD Chip Hall
NWD Brad A. Foster
MVD Kat McCain
POD Valerie Ringold
SAD Katie Opsahl
SPD Jesse Ray
SWD Rachel Wooten
Model Review Manager Kip Runyon
IEPR Lead Andrew MacInnes
Budget Assistance Adrienne Stark


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The ECO-PCX works in all eight Major Subordinate Commands and in Corps of Engineers Districts across the nation. In some cases, these services are provided with the ECO-PCX as the lead responsible for managing reviews.  In other cases, the ECO-PCX is supporting another planning center that serves as the business line lead but needs support for an environmental or ecosystem aspect of a study review. 

Engaging the ECO-PCX early offers teams the ability to access expert support in the critical initial scoping stages of a study and to maintain coordination throughout the planning process. Ideally the ECO-PCX should be consulted when a district begins to negotiate a feasibility study with a non-Federal sponsor. This helps frame the nature of an investigation and identify study support tools such planning models, best practices, recent lessons learned, and available technical experts.

Technical experts from the ECO-PCX support teams in planning charettes or other workshops that gather information and shape potential solutions to water resources problems. Interaction between the ECO-PCX and a study team carries-on throughout the study with the center’s critical involvement in developing a Review Plan, selecting and approving/certifying a planning model, performing various levels of independent review, and participating in vertical team engagements at milestone meetings and other coordination events.

The PCXs strengthen planner core competencies by assisting district Project Delivery Team (PDTs) with technical expertise, peer reviews, model certifications, technology transfer, planner training and providing lessons learned and best practices to the larger Planning Community of Practice (CoP). The following roles and responsibilities apply to all PCXs:

1. Technical Services. Provide technical services to District PDTs from subject matter experts and/or at the direction of a Regional Management Board or the HQ Planning Advisory Board (PAB). Provide advice to HQUSACE, the laboratories, and other partners or stakeholders on significant regional or nationwide planning issues. 

2. Peer Review. Provide for and manage Agency Technical Review (ATR) and maintain rosters of regional technical specialists for conducting timely ATR. Function as the Review Management Organization for Independent External Peer Review (IEPR) to interface with the performing organization external to the Corps of Engineers conducting the IEPR and the District PDT.

3. Research & Development. Assist in identifying Research and Development (R&D) priorities within the mission area and leverage R & D across mission areas. Enure identified needs from the field are coordinated and recommendations shared with the PAB and the Deputy, Planning Community of Practice.

4. Training. Conduct training and share relevant training opportunities related to the assigned mission area to promote and maintain planning technical competency. Support the Planning Associates (PA) program through development and training of PAs along the CW business lines and specific PCX functions. Support national goals in enhancing professional and technical development, sharing knowledge, and promoting communication within the Community of Practice (CoP) and through coordination and integration of planning policies with the HQUSACE Planning CoP.

5. Model Certification. Certify or approve for use the planning models identified in the Project Review Plans and add to the planners' toolbox of certified models using the approved model certification protocol.

6. Policy Development Support. Centers supplement the HQUSACE staff in policy compliance review, if requested, on a reimbursable basis, on projects where the center has had no prior participation. Centers would also provide assistance with exporting policy training to the field or providing review of draft policy.

7. Process Improvement. Develop standard processes and procedures related to their mission areas to support District execution. Support Corps-wide process improvement initiatives through their subject matter experts' participation on process improvement teams.

8. Lessons Learned. Manage a program of sharing lessons learned through coordination with the MSC regional planning expertise centers, sponsoring workshops, technology transfer, or use of intranet resources such as SharePoint.

The ECO-PCX may serve as the RMO for feasibility studies or other work performed to prepare a civil works decision document. The RMO coordinates the Agency Technical Review and the Independent External Peer Review of decision documents and other planning products. The RMO role includes forming review teams and certifying the completion of reviews. In addition, the ECOPCX will engage other centers, such as cost engineering or risk management, as needed to support other independent reviews required by law or Corps policies.

The RMO may be a Planning Center of Expertise, the Risk Management Center or a Major Subordinate Command. Identification of an RMO should follow the guidance in EC 1165-2-217 Civil Works Review Policy. In most cases the RMO will be the center of expertise for the primary business line of the study subject matter. For example, the Flood Risk Management PCX is the RMO for most flood risk studies, and the ECO-PCX is the RMO for most ecosystem restoration studies. Multipurpose studies may be an exception along with certain programs that have decision making authority delegated to the MSC. The Review Plan, discussed in detail below, will clearly identify the RMO for a study.

In some cases, the ECO-PCX will support other planning centers that serve as the Review Management Organization for other business lines (flood risk, navigation, coastal or water management). In these instances, the ECO-PCX function is to provide services, such as model review or planning support, as a secondary service and not serve as the Review Management Organization. Examples of this are common for Flood Risk Management studies that may involve environmental impacts and mitigation planning as part of the feasibility analysis. In those instances, the  FRM-PCX is the Review Management Organization, and the ECO-PCX is called upon to support model selection, model review and mitigation planning. Similar arrangements are common with some of the other planning centers focused on coastal storms and navigation (both deep draft and inland) mission areas.

A Review Plan defines the scope, level of risk, and level of peer review for the planning, design and construction of a Civil Works project. The ECO-PCX engages with Districts during the development of a feasibility study Review Plan. The ECO-PCX Account Manager assists the District team in preparing the Review Plan. This coordination helps identify  the levels of independent review needed and solidifies the ECO-PCX role as the Review Management Organization.

The Review Plan serves as a formal guide to the types of reviews to be conducted, outlines the review schedules and costs, and identifies the expertise required on the review teams. The ECO-PCX recommends approval of Review Plans to the MSC Commander and if appropriate may endorse a risk-informed assessment to exclude a study from Independent External Peer Review. The Review Plan should identify all of the planning models to be used and clearly indicate the status of the models.

Once the ECO-PCX and PDT agree upon the content and details of the Review Plan, the ECO-PCX Operating Director will endorse the Review Plan and recommend its approval at the MSC.

Click Here for Review Plan Guidance & Templates


An Agency Technical review (ATR) is performed to "ensure the quality and credibility of the government's scientific information" as required by Corps policy and other Federal laws and regulations.  Most planning products that make up parts of a decision document package and supporting files will undergo ATR. This includes products of engineering work, environmental compliance, economic analysis, plan formulation, real estate, and work-in-kind from a sponsor or sponsor’s contractor. 

When the ECO-PCX serves as the RMO, the center is responsible for assembling the ATR team and managing the overall execution of the ATR in accordance with an approved Review Plan. 

Some key factors governing the conduct of ATR include:

• ATR should be conducted following the details outlined in an approved Review Plan.

• The ECO-PCX Account Manager recruits and recommends an ATR Lead for approval by the ECO-PCX Operating Director.

• The ATR Lead should be from outside of the home MSC.

• The ATR Lead assembles the ATR Team members. All reviewers must be ATR certified.

• Typically, an ATR is performed on both the draft report and the final report.

• ATR is conducted concurrently with other reviews (public review, Type I IEPR, and legal and policy reviews).

• DrChecks is used to document ATR comments and comment resolution.

• EC 1165-2-217 outlines a comment dispute resolution process. The process is stepwise from reviewer to PDT, ATR Lead to PDT Lead, ECO-PCX Operating Director to Planning Chief, and then Vertical Team issue resolution. Disputed comments can be closed in DrChecks with notations for higher level engagement.

• The ATR Lead prepares ATR Reports at the conclusion of each ATR. The ATR Report is an important component of study documentation package.

• The ATR Lead may participate in key meetings such as In-Progress Reviews or Milestones. The ECO-PCX has developed a set of standard operating procedures for conducting Agency Technical Reviews.

An Independent External Peer Review (IEPR ) is the most independent level of review performed on civil works products in cases that meet criteria where the risk and magnitude of the proposed project are such that a critical examination by a qualified team outside of USACE is warranted. Federal laws (WRDA 2007 & WRRDA 2014) prescribe the circumstances for conducting IEPR. Corps policy also adds circumstances where IEPR should be performed. Two types of IEPR may be performed Type I (planning phase) and Type II (Safety Assurance Review – may occur in planning, design and construction phases). When the ECO-PCX serves as the RMO, the center will be responsible for coordinating the IEPR and managing the overall execution of it following the details contained in an approved Review Plan.

Some key factors governing the conduct of IEPR include:

• IEPR should be conducted following an approved Review Plan and the Type I IEPR Standard Operating Procedures.

• The ECO-PCX Account Manager works with teams to perform a risk assessment on the factors impacting whether or not to perform a Type I IEPR. This assessment is captured in the Review Plan.

• The ECO-PCX Operating Director may endorse the risk assessment and recommend proceeding with an IEPR exclusion request.

• The ECO-PCX IEPR Lead coordinates the planning and acquisition phases that lead up to starting the IEPR. This work requires attention to detail, extensive coordination with the PDT and contracting services, and may take as much as 180 days to complete.

• An Outside Eligible Organization (OEO) is contracted to select the review panel members and oversee the IEPR.

• Federal law requires USACE to report back to Congress on IEPR decisions and outcomes. These mandatory reporting requirements require coordination between the PDT, MSC, RIT and others.

• Typically IEPR is performed on the draft report only.

• IEPR is conducted concurrently with other reviews (public, ATR, and legal/policy reviews).

• The OEO prepares an IEPR Report after the review. The report is an important component of study documentation package.

• The IEPR Panel may be invited to participate in the Agency Decision Milestone.

• The PDT will prepare a response to comments that will accompany the final report.

Providing technical training is an important ECO-PCX service. The center offers a range of technical and planning support training opportunities. These can cover practical guidance on how to accomplish aspects of planning to more-advanced and specialized technical training. 

The ECO-PCX offers an Ecosystem Restoration for Planners course to the USACE Planning Associates Program. This is a week-long course with case studies and a field trip focused on teaching students the methods and best practices for conducting an aquatic ecosystem restoration planning study. Topics include: conceptual models, resource significance, ecosystem structure, function and dynamic processes, plan formulation strategies, CE/ICA, ecological modeling and estimated 100+ Planning Associates have completed the ecosystem restoration course led by the ECO-PCX instructor team.

To learn more about this course, contact the course owners from the ECO-PCX (Jesse Ray and Kat McCain).

Other trainings offered by the ECO-PCX support ecological model development to assist teams conducting studies. The ECO-PCX has partnered with ERDC researchers and modeling experts to offer instruction in conceptual modeling, planning model applications, and ecological model development.

Interested in Learning More?

If you are interested in having a training course based off the Planning Associates course topics tailored to your region, please contact the ECO-PCX Operating Director.

If you are interested in additional support with ecological model development, please contact the ECO-PCX Model Review Manager.


In 2003, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers established the National Ecosystem Planning Center of Expertise (ECO-PCX) to support ecosystem restoration project planning. The ECO-PCX performs independent project reviews, technical training, expert planning support, and model development and review for teams across the 38 U.S. Army Corps of Engineers districts.

The timeline below highlights key actions related to the history of the ECO-PCX.

  • 2002 - The National Academy of Sciences releases “Review Procedures for Water Resources Planning”. This report called for the establishment of independent review at multiple levels and utilizing talent from national centers of expertise.
  • 2003 - U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Headquarters established Planning Centers of Expertise for major mission areas (flood risk management, hurricane and coastal storm damage, deep draft navigation, inland navigation, and ecosystem restoration).
  • 2006 - The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Director of Civil Works issues a memo re-emphasizing the importance of the Planning Centers of Expertise. The memo calls for utilizing the centers in the conduct of independent reviews.
  • 2007 - Congress passes the Water Resources Development Act of 2007 that codifies the establishment of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Planning Centers of Expertise.
  • 2008 - The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Director of Civil Works issues a memo listing the roles and responsibilities of the planning centers. The eight areas identified in the memo form the core set of duties carried out today by the ECO-PCX.
  • 2013 - The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Chief of Engineers delegates to the Director of Civil Works the authority to exclude from peer review a study for a project with an estimated total cost, including mitigation costs, of more than $45 million that meet the established criteria.
  • 2017 - The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Director of Civil Works issues a memo delegating the certification of models for single/limited use and the approval of certification plans to the Director of the PCX.
  • 2018 - The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issues a review policy for the implementation of Independent External Peer Review and addresses Office of Management and Budget peer review requirements for Civil Works projects.
  • 2018 - The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Director of Civil Works issues a memo delegating the certification of models to the Directors of the Planning Centers of Expertise and the assignment of subject matter experts for the model review team to the Office of Water Project Review.


The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers uses ecological models:

•    To understand complex ecological interactions
•    To quantify impacts/benefits of project features
•    To quantify mitigation requirements
•    To forecast future conditions and inform project design
•    To help inform decision-makers

Conceptual Ecological Models

Conceptual Ecological Models help tell the story of "how the system works." They represent simple depictions of relationships.

Conceptual Ecological Models should be developed for ALL aquatic ecosystem restoration studies per Policy Guidance on Certification of Ecosystem Output Models memo.

Conceptual Ecological Models do not require model approval or certification, but they are reviewed for technical accuracy during Agency Technical Review.

To learn more: The Application of Conceptual Models to Ecosystem Restoration (Fischenich, 2008)

Model Categories

     There are several categories used to describe planning models:

Certified - The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers developed, reviewed and approved the planning model for regional or nationwide application in accordance with documented geographic range, nation-wide application in accordance with documented best practices and its designated limitations. 

In Review – The planning model is under review and not available for current use.

Approved for use - The planning model is presently approved for regional or nationwide use in accordance with documented geographic range, best practices, and its designed limitations. 

Approved for single use - The planning model is approved for use on one project. It has not not been approved for regional or nationwide application.

Not approved – The planning model has not been reviewed and/or certified for use in Planning decisions

The Model Certification process:

The following is a step-by-step description of the process used to certify ecological models used by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers during planning.

     1. The model developer or end user (Proponent) initiates consultation with the ECO-PCX Model Review Manager.  

     2. The Proponent works with ECO-PCX to identify potentially applicable models, engage the ERDC Ecological Modeling Team as appropriate.. 

     3. The ECO-PCX  Model Review Manager will work with the Proponent to establish a framework for coordinating the receipt of model documentation, development of the model certification/approval           plan and determining the appropriate level of funding for these actions.

     4. The ECO-PCX Model Review Manager develops the Model Review Plan to manage and scope the independent review of the model.

     5. The ECO-PCX Model Review Managers assembles the Model Review Team, a team of subject matter experts, as outlined in the Model Review Plan. 

     6. The ECO-PCX Model Review Manager sets up a Kickoff Meeting.  This meeting includes representatives of the ECO-PCX, the Proponent, model developers and the Model Review Team to assure all              parties understand the scope and the approach for review of the models.

     7. The Model Review Team evaluates the model documentation package provided by the Proponent to ensure the model is technically sound, computationally correct, usable for Civil Works planning            and policy compliant.

     8. The Model Review Team meets with the ECO-PCX Model Review Manager, model developers and Proponent to discuss review comments and recommendations. 

     9. Based on the review comments, the ECO-PCX Model Review Manager will identify actions or modifications the Proponent needs to undertake in order to gain a recommendation for approval.  The             ECO-PCX Model Review Manager will close-out the review when it determines identified issues have been resolved. 

     10. ECO-PCX Model Review Manager compiles a model approval or certification recommendation package for the ECO-PCX Operating Director.  

     11. The Operating Director of the ECO-PCX reviews the model recommendation package and recommends model approval or model certification under one of the designated authorities to the                          ECO-PCX Director.

     12. The ECO-PCX Director reviews the model recommendation package. If the Director agrees with the recommendation, a memo is signed documenting the approval/certification.  

     13. The ECO-PCX Operating Director distributes the model approval/certification memo by email to the ECO-PCX Model Review Manager, the home MSC and the Project Delivery Team.

     14. The ECO-PCX Model Review Manager uploads the model and all relevant documentation onto the ECO-PCX Model Library.

When do I engage the ECO-PCX on model review requirements?

As soon as possible! The Review Plan should include all models the PDT may potentially use in the study. Prior to the Alternatives Milestone, a conceptual model of the system should be drafted and firm list of ecological models be used for the study. The list of models should be coordinated with the ECO-PCX to ensure models selected are appropriate for use. This review/coordination should be completed prior to using the model in the decision-making.

What is the USACE Policy on Ecological Models?

Any planning model used by USACE to support decision-making must be certified to assure quality. EC 1105-2-412, Assuring Quality of Planning Models establishes the process and requirements for assuring quality of planning models. Director of Civil Works (DCW) Memo 4 Dec 2017, Modification of the Model Certification Process and Delegation of Model Approval for Use and DCW Memo 11 May 2018, Delegation of Model Certification modified the EC related to delegation. EC 1105-2-412 remains in effect until permanent planning model guidance is issued.

Do I need to use a conceptual ecological model for my ecosystem restoration study?

YES! The use and review of conceptual models is adopted per DCW Mr. Stockton Memo 2008 Policy Guidance on Certification of Ecosystem Output Models.

Where do I find ecological models?

The  ecological model library is located here: https://ecolibrary.planusace.us/#/home. You can search like habitat, species or model name. You can also reach out to the ECO-PCX Model Review Manager or your ECO-PCX MSC account manager for assistance in selection, application, review and certification process too.

If I need help with building a new model, where can I go to learn more?

The ECO-PCX along with the ERDC Ecological Modeling Team work together as a dynamic duo to help teams with this process. The ERDC EcoMod team can also assist PDTs through facilitated modeling workshops. To learn more, contact the EcoMod Team at ecomodteam@usace.army.mil and visit their website EcoModTeam.

Model Building Recipe for Success: ECO-PCX + ERDC + YOU = AWESOME!

I plan to use an existing approved/certified model, do I need the spreadsheet calculator I create be reviewed?

YES! All spreadsheet calculators created need to be reviewed for quality assurance and approved for use by the ECO-PCX. This should be done before the spreadsheet calculator is used in decision-making.

Do CAP studies require use of an approved/certified model?

Under CAP, model review/approval is slightly different. Per EP 1105-2-58, Continuing Authorities Program, the use of certified planning models is not required. However, MSC Commanders remain responsible for assuring the quality of the analyses used in these projects.

How long does it take for a model to be certified?

It depends on the complexity of the model... but a typical timeline for a model review and approval is three to six months. This includes time review to scope the review, identify reviewers, review, respond to comments and routing for endorsement and approval for use by the ECO-PCX Director. 

How can a model review be delayed?

Typically, incomplete model documentation delays the start of a review. Engage the ECO-PCX Model Review Manager to ensure all documentation requirements are included prior to submittal for review. Other delays happen during response to comments and funding lapses for PDT members, reviewers, and/or model proponent.

What is the difference between single one-time use approval regional model certification?

The review process is basically the same. Single one-time use approval is sufficient if the model only will ever need to be used for a given study. However, if it is anticipated the model will be used again on a different study in a broader region, then the regional model certification may be more efficient in the long-term for future work.

How much does model certification cost?

The costs varies based on the complexity of the model.  Costs for model review have been anywhere from $10K to $65K depending on review scope and method. The ECO-PCX Model Review Manager can help PDTs scope the effort and develop an estimate for the review.

During a SMART Planning Study, when should a model be approved/certified?

Model review and certification should be done prior to a decision being made. Typically, during a SMART Planning study this is prior to the Tentatively Selected Plan (TSP) milestone. So be sure to engage the ECO-PCX early in the study to avoid schedule issues later.

Once a model is approved/certified, can I use it forever? 

No.  Models are approved/certified for seven years and will require re-approval after expiration. 

How are certified models adjusted when new scientific findings contradict or otherwise change the variables currently used in a certain model?

The ECO-PCX has a formal reevaluation process in place for model re-approval and recertification, which must take place a minimum of every seven years. In cases where new scientific evidence requires reassessment of a model before the seven-year period expires, the ECO-PCX uses the same reevaluation process to consider the original certification rationale, review the new information and determine how it changes the components of the existing model and recertify the model, as appropriate.

Is there a requirement to use scientific literature-based sources in model development and documentation, or can model certification rely solely on expert professional judgement?

The basis of evidence for certifying models ranges widely. Models for rare species or habitat types may be primarily based on expert professional judgement and experience in the field given the sparsity or complete lack of literature or date, and therefore are documented to the best of the PCX's ability. While the citation of at least some peer reviewed literature is preferred for all model certification, it is sometimes impossible. When this is the case, the ECO-PCX documents uncertainties and potential complications related to the lack of date to ensure these issues are clearly outlines.

Is it more difficult or time consuming to approve models developed by state agencies vs. models developed by USACE?

Models developed by state agencies are not necessarily harder to approve than models developed by USACE, but the effort and time required depends on how robust and well-documented the model is when it gets to USACE. Some models with detailed documentation that have already been peer reviewed move fairly quickly through the process, while others that are still indraft form and that lack an active point of contact at the submitting agency are much more difficult to review and approve.

Additionally, some models developed by others have parameters that are not USACE policy compliant. For example, some mitigation models developed by other federal agencies include a discount rate and risk factor. USACE does not discount habitat units per agency policy, and risk is accounted for in our monitoring and adaptive management requirements.

Do Districts typically collaborate with their resource agency partners (i.e., U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Marine Fisheries Service) when developing their ecological planning models ?

As best practices continue to be shared widely, the ECO-PCX is seeing increased coordination between Districts and their resource agency partners on model development and certification. The resource agencies are typically enthusiastic about getting involved in the model development process and sharing their expertise. They bring helpful field experience and peer review skills to the table that can improve model quality and make the certification process easier.

What happens if I don't get the model I use certified?

HQ and the ATRT will notify the PDT that you have not complied with the EC's and you will be directed to stop and conduct model review before you proceed.

What happens if my model review is conducted and the model is not certified?

If the review is conducted and significant issues arise that you cannot resolve through model modifications, you will be asked to assess the significance of the comments on the planning decision and how they effect your selection and the vertical team will work with the PDT to resolve the issue.


The USACE Planning Toolbox houses the most up-to-date resources, planning guidance and policies related to USACE Aquatic Ecosystem Restoration Mission.

Check it out HERE