R.D. James, BSCE 1971
Inducted in 2021
Rickey “R.D.” James is the 12th assistant secretary of the Army for Civil Works, a post he has held since his appointment in 2018 by former President Donald Trump.
As the assistant secretary, James establishes policy direction and supervises all aspects of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Civil Works programs under the Department of the Army. These responsibilities include programs for conservation and development of the nation’s water and wetland resources; flood control; navigation; and shore protection. In his testimony to the Senate Appropriations Committee subcommittee on Energy & Waterways Development on the FY20 budget, James communicated a $4.8 billion plan that focused on investments that either yielded a high economic and environmental return or addressed a significant risk to public safety.
Trained as a civil engineer, James took an early interest in drainage issues as he worked in business and agriculture. He worked for the Kentucky Department of Water Resources during his last two years at the University of Kentucky. Prior to James’ appointment as assistant secretary, he served nearly four decades on the Mississippi River Commission (MRC), appointed first by former President Ronald Reagan in 1981 and then to three more nine-year terms by former Presidents George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
The MRC is charged with preventing the Mississippi River from flooding towns, cities, industry, commerce, energy resources and valuable cropland following heavy rainfall or snow melt; maintaining its navigability during all types of weather; and dredging harbors and ports to keep commerce moving. The MRC also oversees the implementation of the Mississippi River and Tributaries project. The expansive project is a system of flood control and navigation that James believes is the country’s most successful civil works project.
Prior to his appointment, James was a self-employed farmer and manager of cotton gins and grain elevators for the A.C. Riley Company in New Madrid, Missouri. James received the Sikeston Area Chamber of Commerce 2007 Agri-Business Award and was the New Madrid County Outstanding Conservation Farmer of 1987. He received the A.L. Vandergriff Cotton Pioneer Award from the Southern Cotton Ginners Association in 2020 and was named 2020 Port Person of the Year by the American Association of Port Authorities.
James served on the board of directors and executive committee of the Southern Cotton Ginners Association in Memphis, Tennessee, and as a board member for the Cotton Producers of Missouri. He is a former member of both the board of directors of the U.S. Bank of Sikeston, Missouri, and the New Madrid County Board of Education, where he served as president from 1980-98.
James lives in New Madrid, Missouri, with his wife, Jennye. They have two children.