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Analytical Methods and Approaches for Water Resources Project Planning 4 Stakeholder Participation Stakeholder participation is an increasingly accepted component of natural resources and environmental planning processes in the United States and some parts of the world. In the U.S., stakeholder participation has been codified in environmental planning (e.g., the Administrative Procedure Act and the National Environmental Policy Act). Outside of the United States, international bodies such as the European Union, the World Bank, and World Commission on Dams have incorporated stakeholder participation into policy making and planning procedures. The importance of stakeholder participation in international water resources planning increased in the 1970s and continued through the 1990s and into 2000 and beyond (ESMPAP, 2003; IUCN, 2000; Mol, 2001; OECD, 1973; World Commission on Dams, 2000). The Corps and other federal agencies have responded to changing forms of and demands for stakeholder participation in planning processes. Prior to World War II, federal agencies typically acted unilaterally, and public relations were oriented primarily toward gaining support for agency projects. After World War II, legal requirements of the 1946 Administrative Procedure Act stimulated more interest in public engagement, but this tended to be formal, highly structured, and oriented primarily to disseminate information. To facilitate opportunities for public comment, the 1966 Freedom of Information Act required full public disclosure of information. The National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 required preparation of environmental impact statements that are subject to public review and comment. During the 1970s the Corps increased its efforts to include stakeholder participation in planning. By 1978, the Corps had spent up to $80 million to facilitate public involvement, more than any other federal agency at the time (Rosenbaum, 1979). The Corps Institute for Water Resources was one of the first federal natural resource agencies to fund research and training in the field of public involvement (Creighton, 1983). In addition, the range of areas involving stakeholder participation within Corps studies was greater than in other federal agencies (Langton, 1993). In 1983, James Hanchey, then
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Analytical Methods and Approaches for Water Resources Project Planning the Director of the Corps Institute for Water Resources stated, “For an engineering organization, public involvement has become crucial to our ability to provide engineering service to changing social values. Public involvement has helped define our role as engineers in the 1970s, and will continue to do so in the 1980s” (1988, p. 11). Box 4-1 discusses in further detail stakeholder participation in Corps planning studies. ROLES IN DECISION MAKING Although the notion of stakeholder participation continues to gain acceptance, there is no standard that constitutes “best practices” in this field. Because social, economic, and political conditions vary across settings, standardized, prescriptive stakeholder participation methods are likely to be inappropriate and ineffective. Stakeholder participation should be viewed more as a general principle applied in varied settings than a specific technique for wide application. One observer within the Corps explained this as follows: Public involvement is not a technique, but a strategy, approach or philosophy. There is no “one way” to do public involvement…. What works one place will not always work someplace else…. It is not the technique as much as the [attitude of the people] who employ the technique that is important (Delli Priscolli, 1993, p. 68). Nonetheless, a variety of approaches and guidelines, whose effect will depend on the specific context and objectives, might be valuable. Objectives of Stakeholder Participation There are at least four objectives of stakeholder participation in planning: Acceptance from the affected public. This objective is common to most planning efforts, but its meaning differs depending on how the planning process is implemented. In top-down planning processes, which are typically led by elected officials or planning “experts,” the
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Analytical Methods and Approaches for Water Resources Project Planning BOX 4-1 Stakeholder Participation in Corps Project Planning The Corps requires public involvement in its planning studies consistent with the Administrative Procedure Act of 1946 and the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969. The Corps has been a leader in promoting stakeholder participation, but practices at its district offices vary widely (for some good reasons), and the Corps has found it difficult to achieve consistent levels of stakeholder participation in project planning across districts. Also, expectations about stakeholder participation changed during the 1990s. Although it is now acknowledged that planning practices may vary according to context, contemporary expectations are that stakeholder participation should aspire to two-way communication, early and sustained public involvement, deliberations involving informal personal processes, and representation of all interests. Four cases of contemporary Corps project planning were considered in this study in order to learn more about Corps planning procedures and public involvement in different districts (Chapter 1 of this report lists those case studies). All of these cases met Corps requirements for stakeholder participation, as defined in Corps planning guidance: (1) develop and implement an effective public involvement strategy as an integral part of the planning process for each study; (2) in cooperation with a non-federal sponsor, develop and implement a management structure to ensure effective collaboration in the feasibility study; (3) discuss how information gained from public sponsor involvement has been used in and influenced the planning process; (4) solicit comments on the draft report and environmental document. Beyond these requirements, the form, content, and extent of stakeholder participation are left to the planners’ discretion. Contemporary expectations for greater two-way interaction and direct public involvement in decision making are seldom met simply by fulfilling these requirements. For example, in the Houston-Galveston Navigation Study, concerns about channel deepening and widening were addressed openly and inclusively. Resource agencies and the public were involved through the evaluation period in multiple public scoping meetings and workshops. Coordination and cooperation among interested parties resulted in no major areas of controversy or unresolved environmental conflicts associated with the recommended plan. Committees of participating agencies and groups were assembled to identify concerns and to consider environmental impacts. Comprehensive studies were
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Analytical Methods and Approaches for Water Resources Project Planning undertaken to assess potential impacts, alternative plans were developed, and recommendations were made and generally followed. This transparent process and inclusive stakeholder participation appeared to resolve some environment-related conflicts. Several factors may have contributed to this extensive stakeholder participation: Houston had a local sponsor committed to environmentally-responsible project implementation; natural resources agencies and user groups were more unified, vocal, and forceful in the Houston harbor expansion; and environmental concerns raised at each review level were acted on within the Houston-Galveston district and at the national level. Anecdotal evidence suggests, however, that participation does not always proceed in this fashion. The Corps would benefit from a review of stakeholder participation experiences and procedures across its districts. The Corps should also aim toward greater standardization in this realm, an effort that would be enhanced by the development of agency-wide manuals on stakeholder participation. public is encouraged to support plans that have already been developed. Public officials and experts, however, today may be viewed with a greater degree of mistrust than in a previous era. In this context, efforts to get public acceptance might be seen as a cynical attempt by elites to co-opt the public (Mol, 2001). The public may be especially critical if it feels that it is being consulted only after fundamental decisions have been made. Frequent communication with the public in initial phases of planning is more likely to result in meaningful and satisfactory dialogue than if communications are enacted at later stages of the process. Managing risks and uncertainties. All projects pose some degree of risks (e.g., risk of levee failure, risk that endangered species will not be protected, risk that forecast economic benefits will not materialize), and identifying and managing these risks is an important part of planning processes. Although experts play important roles in identifying hazards and levels of risks, they cannot determine levels of risk that are acceptable to the public and its various sub-groups. Ultimately, the decision regarding an acceptable level of risk is a public policy choice. The planning of complex projects also involves a degree of uncertainty about the range and magnitude of outcomes. This observation is especially true of large-scale projects involving significant environmental changes; such projects often offer large potential benefits, but the range and scale of
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Analytical Methods and Approaches for Water Resources Project Planning impacts are uncertain (Mol, 2001). The adaptive management approach is increasingly turned to in efforts to redress this dilemma in natural resources management, but even such projects typically cannot proceed without some willingness by the affected public to accept a degree of uncertainty (the 216 study panel on adaptive management also discusses stakeholder participation in Corps planning studies). Again, experts alone cannot and should not decide what uncertainties are acceptable or how to proceed in the face of uncertainty. Education. The purpose of education is to create an informed public and thereby improve its abilities to participate in decision-making processes (NRC, 1999b; Popovic, 1993). Public education is part of a larger process that involves the development of public decision-making capacity with the intent of enhancing public involvement in decision making. Advocates of such education claim that it is needed because many contemporary planning problems entail a myriad of legal, environmental, and analytical complexities, whose details may be difficult for even the best-informed lay observer to comprehend. Efforts in public education are likely to be more effective if they are initiated in early stages of planning processes. Building public consent consistent with democratic principles. This objective is based on the democratic norm that “citizens have rights to participate meaningfully in public decision making and to be informed about the bases from government decisions” (NRC, 1996). This objective perhaps represents the highest and most abstract standard for stakeholder participation. To be effective, it requires an educated public that is meaningfully engaged during the planning process. Stakeholder participation is meant to complement, not circumvent, political and decision-making processes. Stakeholder groups typically do not have the legal authority to set policy or resolve disputes. The inclusion of stakeholders is meant to help inform elected officials of the complex and dynamic interests of their constituencies. Milestones in Public Participation Processes Ideally, expert and public input would be integrated throughout the planning process, but one or the other may play a leading role at different times. Although their respective roles may vary through the planning process, useful stakeholder participation will engage decision makers and stakeholders at all planning stages. Key points in the planning process include the following:
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Analytical Methods and Approaches for Water Resources Project Planning Problem formulation. At this stage, key questions are identified for further data gathering and analysis. To capture the complexity of a problem, scientific inputs as well as inputs from the affected parties are needed. Problem formulation should involve stakeholders, including the affected public, interest groups, agency officials, and scientific or technical experts. Process design. This involves establishing key parameters in the planning process, such as the appropriate scale that captures the full impact of a project and the full range of affected stakeholders (see the 216 study report on river basins and coastal systems for more detailed discussion of the issue of appropriate scales of planning). Experts can play important roles in identifying the appropriate scale of analysis by applying scientific theories to answer questions such as the following: What scale is best for addressing the problem or issue at hand? Can managers effectively influence critical areas, given the scale selected? Can the problem and the proposed solution be credibly evaluated? Is management at the selected scale feasible and economically affordable? Selecting options and desired outcomes. This is made possible by identifying trade-offs among alternative solutions and by identifying publicly held values that guide the selection of options. Scientific inputs provide a basis to identify trade-offs between alternatives. To understand the full range of trade-offs and alternatives, a variety of scientific inputs (ecological, physical, engineering, and behavioral) may be needed. Trade-offs may entail conflicts between fundamental and legitimate differences in values. It is especially important to recognize, respect, and deliberate on these points early in the study process. Synthesis. This attempts to reach consensus about a desired action. Recognizing that most decisions create winners and losers, it may be necessary to devise means to compensate those who suffer significant losses as a result of a particular course of action. At this stage, public input is central. Scientists play a role in identifying trade-offs, but the public should help articulate societal values during the decision-making process (NRC, 1999b). Stakeholder participation processes are imperfect and evolve in unpredictable ways, however, and they may not lead to the resolution of value-based differences and yield a single consensus. Such limitations should be recognized early in the process, and decision makers should be prepared to act in the face of differences and disputes. Despite its limitations, the inclusion of stakeholders in planning is a legitimate ideal in an open society. Given that stakeholder-based processes may not result in clear consensus, decision makers would benefit from a
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Analytical Methods and Approaches for Water Resources Project Planning synthesis report that explains the various points of view of stakeholder groups involved in a given plan. The Corps should include this type of synthesis in the summary document that this report recommends become a standard part of the agency’s planning studies. STAKEHOLDER PARTICIPATION APPROACHES As mentioned, there is no standard for implementing stakeholder participation, but several approaches can be used singly or in combination to foster stakeholder participation. The execution of particular approaches—all of which have strengths and weaknesses (NRC, 1996, 1999b)—or the specific combination of them, depends on the issue or problem, the objective(s), and context in which they are employed. Examples of some common approaches include the following: Public hearings. This method may be the most common form of public engagement. It is called for in a variety of legislation, thereby meeting legal requirements for stakeholder participation. Public hearings allow for a variety of voices to be heard at one event; however, this form of engagement is often disappointing for several reasons. Most importantly, it is not clear it produces inputs that are actually incorporated into project planning. Public hearings are often held late in the planning process, and the forums tend to degenerate into posturing on the part of various special interest groups, resulting in little dialogue, mutual learning, or potential for consensus. Convening such forums early in the planning process may help demonstrate that stakeholder viewpoints are being used as part of the bases for fundamental planning decisions. Citizen advisory committees and task forces. Such bodies are typically appointed to address a specific issue for a limited term. These groups evaluate information over a period of time that allows for the development of a shared understanding of an issue or problem. The main limitation of such bodies is the question of whether they represent the broader public. For example, are all relevant interests represented, and are individual members effectively articulating the interests they represent? Policy dialogues. These encounters bring together stakeholders for the purpose of increasing understanding of a problem or issue. When not geared to the development of formal agreements, they help build common ground for future interactions. When geared to creating a formal agreement, these dialogues are referred to as “alternative dispute
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Analytical Methods and Approaches for Water Resources Project Planning resolution.” These methods can be useful in situations involving sharp conflict and opposing opinions, beliefs, or values. They typically result in fewer protests and less litigation once a project is underway or completed. Like citizen advisory committees or task forces, the issue of representation is a concern (e.g., Who is involved and how were they selected?). Surveys. Surveys generate information about the knowledge, beliefs, values and opinions of a wide range of the public. If properly executed, they are effective at ascertaining the degree to which certain perspectives represent the broad views of the general population. Survey results, however, may be biased in terms of the content of the questions asked. If survey questions do not address relevant issues, the results may not be of interest or may represent a partial or biased view of the situation. Furthermore, surveys are simply a means of gathering information, not a means of promoting active deliberation about issues related to project planning. Focus groups. Focus groups are meetings of targeted subpopulations for concentrated discussion about a particular issue. These groups can help gather large amounts of information quickly with little expense. However, they share some of the shortcomings of the other methods. Like surveys, they are focused on gathering information and offer little opportunity for deliberation or group learning. Second, although focus group participants may be randomly selected, they are relatively small and the views presented in the discussions may not be representative of the general population or of targeted subpopulations. Effective planning processes must integrate analysis based on scientific and technical inputs, with deliberation in a public forum that allows for meaningful participation of all affected stakeholders. Meaningful participation means that affected stakeholders deliberate about substantive issues related to any planning process, and that the results of this deliberation play a material role in project planning (NRC, 1996; 1999b). In one effort to codify general stakeholder collaboration guidelines, an NRC committee that reviewed Missouri River ecosystem science and the prospects for adaptive management offered a set of guiding principles (Box 4-2).
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Analytical Methods and Approaches for Water Resources Project Planning BOX 4-2 Stakeholder Involvement Principles for Missouri River Dam and Reservoir System Management Participation by a broad spectrum of interest groups. Inclusion of tribal interests. Continuous two-way communication with the public. Visible participation by federal, state, and tribal governments and nongovernmental organizations. Support from an independent, interdisciplinary scientific panel. Provision by the federal government, with support from the states and tribes, of secure funding for stakeholder involvement efforts over the lifetime of the activity. Participation by representatives of Congress and of the state legislatures of the Missouri River basin states. Consensus decision making by the stakeholder group. Bounding the process with defined goals and with time lines for their achievement. Conduct of the activities of the governments in an open and transparent manner. Authentication of the stakeholder involvement process by governments in a formal document with all participating agencies as signatories. Provision of formal, independent facilitation for stakeholder group activities. SOURCE: NRC (2002). STATE OF CORPS PRACTICES The overarching goal of public involvement for the Corps is to “open and maintain channels of communication with the public in order to give full consideration of public views and information in the planning process” (USACE, 2000; ER 105-2-100:2-15). Although the Corps is careful not to relinquish its decision-making responsibility, the planning guidance lists four objectives of public involvement: (1) to provide information about proposed activities to the public; (2) to make the public’s desires, needs, and concerns known to decision makers; (3) to provide for consultation with the public before decisions are reached; and (4) to consider the public’s views in reaching decisions. The guidance
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Analytical Methods and Approaches for Water Resources Project Planning recommends standard techniques for engaging the public, including information dissemination via the media, convening workshops and public meetings, and administering public opinion surveys. No specific criteria for the adequacy of public involvement are provided, but the expectation is that it be relevant and reflect the scope and complexity of the particular study. Corps guidance recommends that a public involvement strategy include several components that create opportunities for evaluation of stakeholder participation: a description of the preliminary consultation activities that led to development of the public involvement approach, including the agencies, groups, and individuals consulted; an identification of the public involvement expertise and effort that may be needed from various organizational units; and determination of the appropriate review points at which to evaluate the structure and function of the public involvement program. These practices grew out of a legal and institutional foundation for stakeholder participation established in the Corps during the 1970s. However, as expectations for greater two-way interaction and direct public involvement in decision making grew, this framework has sometimes become an obstacle to deeper and more meaningful stakeholder participation. It has been noted, for example: NEPA’s [the National Environmental Policy Act’s] requirements … created a public participation model that results in dissatisfaction, frustration, and anger, because interest groups and individuals are viewed as data points; public involvement is treated as an analytical problem; and the decision is de-personalized. While studies evaluating the effectiveness of involvement techniques consistently show that participants prefer the informal, face-to-face techniques, NEPA and its implementing regulations mandate formalistic and impersonal approaches. Consequently, the available techniques tend to be one-way, while the most desirable techniques tend to be two-way (Cortner, 1993). The promotion of stakeholder participation by federal agencies waned in the early 1980s. With a greater emphasis on local initiatives, federal agencies reduced the extent and intensity of efforts to promote public involvement. The centers for advancing public involvement shifted to the regional and local levels, where there continued to be demands for it. Appreciation of and demand for stakeholder participation grew within Corps district offices. A demand for public involvement
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Analytical Methods and Approaches for Water Resources Project Planning was a clearly-expressed message in 16 regional listening sessions sponsored by Corps across the nation in 2000. Calls for stakeholder participation emerged in the discussion of a variety of topics including marine transportation systems, watershed management, project processes, and institutional changes. Several specific suggestions made at the listening sessions emphasized the demand for stakeholder or public involvement: Use problem-solving forums with all stakeholders to build consensus. Coordinate watershed planning involving all stakeholders and agencies (federal, state, and local). Emphasize full stakeholder involvement from a project’s outset. Incorporate stakeholder inputs early in the process. Consider economic, social, and environmental benefits during project formulation. Increase interaction and communication with stakeholders. Greater emphasis on locally initiated public involvement coincided with the Corps’ requirement for greater cost-sharing in civil works projects pursuant to the 1986 Water Resources Development Act. Public involvement was required by this act, and public involvement activities could be counted as an in-kind, cost-shared contribution to projects by local sponsors (Langton, 1993). As a result, the Corps decreased systematic consideration of stakeholder participation and it became more of a local or district matter. Today, local cosponsors often play a leading role in stakeholder participation. To the extent that the Corps takes less direct responsibility for stakeholder participation, its reviews are less structured, and expectations for Corps stakeholder participation activities have been reduced. As a result, there is no general sense of what the broader public’s role is in the development of Corps projects, nor of how that public is represented. Instead, there is great variety across Corps districts and projects (Delli Priscolli, 2002, personal communication). Consistent with these observations in a previous NRC (1999a, p. 58) review of Corps planning procedures, it was concluded that: Current planning processes and funding arrangements have a tendency to force the Corps districts to view their constituencies narrowly, focusing upon the local sponsor. Efforts by local interests to include a broad range of participants in planning and to reach consensus
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Analytical Methods and Approaches for Water Resources Project Planning on project plans require extra time, in some instances creating tensions between field level planners in the Corps and policy makers who are responding to the mandate to streamline the process…. The committee concluded that the local sponsor should be required to solicit the viewpoints of all interested stakeholders before asking the Corps to initiate a reconnaissance study. The Corps has historically found it difficult to establish consistent levels of stakeholder participation in project planning across districts. Despite efforts in the 1970s to promote a broader range of and more open stakeholder participation practices at the district level, studies indicated that their adoption was limited. One study found that study directors were unlikely to use official public involvement guidance materials and only a handful of districts had established specific guidelines for their district (Langton, 1993). Another study reviewing the Corps’ experience with stakeholder participation in the 1970s concluded, “Overall … the change in the decision process has been mixed at the field level, depending on both district initiatives and local demands” (Mazmanian and Nienaber, 1979). The authors went on to say, “The Corps is already doing better than most other federal agencies, even with its modest requirements for stakeholder participation in planning. We strongly suggest, however, that only outside pressure of the sort generated in the late 1960s and early 1970s will prompt the agency to institute an agency-wide open planning program … or seek dramatically different forms of public involvement (pp. 190-191).” These observations from the late 1970s might apply to the current state of affairs. The tendency to equate stakeholder participation with local project sponsorship potentially narrows stakeholder participation, but also introduces the possibility of considerable variation in the level and effectiveness of public involvement. Systematic support and expectations for stakeholder participation (along with comprehensive, watershed scale planning) appears to be one outcome of local cost-sharing arrangements (NRC, 1999a). In instances in which watershed planning is conducted, however, stakeholder participation could be useful in cases where no single jurisdiction represents “the watershed.” The lack of coincidence between many jurisdictional boundaries and watershed boundaries represents a long-standing challenge in water resources planning, and there have been a variety of government efforts to deal with it, including interstate compacts and commissions, the Tennessee Valley Authority, and various federal river basin
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Analytical Methods and Approaches for Water Resources Project Planning commissions (Rieke and Kenney, 1997). In connection with this issue, Delli Priscoli (1993:64 1-64) observed: … public involvement is often viewed as a way of mobilizing a regionally affected constituency which cuts across state, local, and even international jurisdictional boundaries. By offering new opportunities for interested parties to interact, public involvement will encourage a broader spectrum of costs to be articulated, a more comprehensive trade-off analysis among alternatives, and increased regional plan acceptance by institutions and people within a region. Public involvement then becomes another strategy in the tradition of encouraging comprehensive and coordinated water resources planning. COMMENTARY Stakeholder participation represents a commitment to democratic principles in planning public works projects. A variety of contextually specific social and technical factors must be taken into account in engaging the public in project planning. Although planning practices will and should vary according to context, the stakeholder participation performance standards defined by the NRC Committee on Missouri River Ecosystem Science provide reasonable guidance toward establishing a set of general principles (see Box 4-2). The Corps was an early leader in the development of stakeholder participation procedures and their implementation. Since the late 1980s, the Corps (like other federal agencies) has been less systematic in incorporating stakeholder participation into water project planning and management. Although it is required in all project planning, the design and conduct of stakeholder participation takes place at the district or local level with only very general standards grounded in legal requirements, such as those associated with the National Environmental Policy Act. Local cost-sharing and the potential to count public involvement as an in-kind cost-shared contribution create the potential for wide variation in the level and effectiveness of stakeholder participation. These activities may meet minimal requirements or may extend far beyond them, but the Corps does not have any means to assess the different efforts, or a system to identify and extend successful experiences to other projects. In the absence of a system of incentives or supports, practices may tend toward
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Analytical Methods and Approaches for Water Resources Project Planning minimum standards that do not meet with contemporary standards for stakeholder participation. Stakeholder participation processes defy standardization, evolve in hard-to-predict ways, and do not always yield consensus and clear direction. Especially in contentious situations, achieving consensus among different stakeholder groups may represent merely an ideal that is rarely achieved. Moreover, even if stakeholder groups were to achieve broad consensus, this outcome may be inconsistent with federal criteria for project approval. Yet as this chapter has explained, stakeholder involvement in project planning is essential and a potentially useful approach to implementing projects that reflect complex social and political differences and that can be adjusted to changing conditions following project implementation. Even agreement on small steps or objectives will provide some common ground for stakeholder collaboration, which can be useful in helping shape and refine objectives through the planning process. As stakeholder groups typically cannot fully resolve all differences, some synthesis of the different viewpoints would be useful to decision makers. These syntheses should be part of Corps planning studies. The Corps should also conduct a review of stakeholder participation procedures at its district-level offices to determine: (1) the balance between Corps and locally led stakeholder participation efforts, and (2) the level and effectiveness of stakeholder participation activities to create meaningful two-way communication between the public and Corps planners. The Corps should also prepare and publish training and reference materials on standards for stakeholder participation, which should provide useful, general guidance to planners throughout the agency.
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