The Cato Institute released Reviving Economic Growth this week, an e-book with 51 essays from experts answering this question: “If you could wave a magic wand and make one or two policy or institutional changes to brighten the U.S. economy’s long-term growth prospects, what would you change and why?”
Here is an excerpt from Philip Howard’s contribution, “Radically Simplify Law”:
America’s can-do culture has a few necessary conditions, including the rule of law. Economic energy dissipates in a state of anarchy or corruption. A vigorous economy requires a legal platform which enforces contracts, protects against crime and allows people to go through the day focusing forward, not looking over their shoulders.
Too much law, however, can have similar effects as too little law. People slow down, they become defensive, they don’t initiate projects because they are surrounded by legal risks and bureaucratic hurdles. They tiptoe through the day looking over their shoulders rather than driving forward on the power of their instincts. Instead of trial and error, they focus on avoiding error.
Modern America is the land of too much law. Like sediment in a harbor, law has steadily accumulated, mainly since the 1960s, until most productive activity requires slogging through a legal swamp. It’s degenerative. Law is denser now than it was 10 years ago, and will be denser still in the next decade.
CONTACT: Chelsey Saatkamp – Goodman Media International
STATEMENT BY COMMON GOOD CHAIR PHILIP K. HOWARD IN RESPONSE TO WHITE HOUSE ANNOUNCEMENT ON INFRASTRUCTURE REFORMS
New York, NY – September 22, 2015 – Common Good Chair Philip K. Howard released the following statement in response to the White House’s announcement today of procedural improvements in the environmental review process for infrastructure projects:
“The reforms announced by the White House today are a step in the right direction but do not address sufficiently the extraordinary cost to the nation of delays in approving infrastructure projects. Common Good has estimated that cost at $3.7 trillion – more than twice the cost of fixing the infrastructure.
Having parallel reviews rather than sequential ones, as the White House proposes, is clearly a valuable step. But it will not change a regulatory culture, with no accountable decision-maker, that has led the approval process to last, in many cases, a decade or longer. Environmental review statements should be no more than 300 pages as current regulations provide – not, often, 10,000 pages.
I look forward to hearing more about additional steps that the White House intends to take to address this issue, which is costing the nation dearly in wasted resources, preventable pollution, and millions of lost jobs.”
Earlier this month Common Good issued a report revealing that a six-year delay in starting construction on public projects costs the nation over $3.7 trillion, including the costs of prolonged inefficiencies and unnecessary pollution. That’s more than double the $1.7 trillion needed through the end of this decade to modernize America’s decrepit infrastructure. Titled Two Years, Not Ten Years: Redesigning Infrastructure Approvals, the report proposes a dramatic reduction of red tape so that infrastructure can be approved in two years or less. This can be accomplished by consolidating decisions within a simplified framework with deadlines and clear lines of accountability.
The report comes as the federal government considers funding for infrastructure projects, but funding alone is not sufficient. Even fully-funded projects have trouble moving forward. In 2009, America had the money (over $800 billion in the economic stimulus package) but few permits. In its five-year report on the stimulus, released in February 2014, the White House revealed that a grand total of $30 billion (3.6 percent of the stimulus) had been spent on transportation infrastructure. In the current legal quagmire, not even the President has authority to approve needed projects.
The report also comes as Americans are increasingly frustrated with the federal government’s inability to improve the nation’s infrastructure. A nationwide poll of U.S. voters conducted for Common Good in June by Clarus Research Group found that 74 percent of voters would be more inclined to vote for a candidate for President who promised to take charge of federal infrastructure reviews to speed up the process; 79 percent of voters think there are no good reasons for infrastructure delays, which are mostly viewed as an example of wasteful and inefficient government.
The full report is available at www.commongood.org.
For more information or to talk with Common Good Chair Philip K. Howard, please contact Chelsey Saatkamp at 212-576-2700 x259 or email@example.com.
Common Good (www.commongood.org) is a nonpartisan government reform coalition dedicated to restoring common sense to America. The Chair of Common Good is Philip K. Howard, a lawyer and author of most recently The Rule of Nobody. He is also author of The Death of Common Sense.Comment ›
Following the release of “Two Years, Not Ten Years,” Common Good Chair Philip Howard took to the Huffington Post this week to further explain how environmental review, as currently conducted, actually hurts the environment:
Environmental review, when mandated by Congress in 1970, was supposed to foster better decisions. No one expected it to delay projects by more than a few months. Current regulations by the White House Council on Environmental Quality, created by Congress to oversee environmental review, state that environment impact statements should not be longer than 300 ages even in the most complex projects.
Environmental review has instead evolved into an agonizing crawl through years of meetings and mind-numbing detail. A project to raise the roadway of the Bayonne Bridge has almost no environmental impact -- it uses the same foundations and right of way -- but nonetheless required a 10,000 page environmental assessment. In another project, to expand a dock on the west coast, the initial "scoping meetings" took two years; only then could consultants even begin their review. The Savannah River dredging project consumed 14 years in environmental reviews. Such is the slow trudge through environmental review. …
The dynamic of delay is easy to understand. Every project has some harmful side effects. A desalination plant produces a briny byproduct. A wind farm mars nature views. A third rail tunnel under the Hudson will require huge digging and will dislocate people on the approach routes. Any group that doesn't like a project, or prefers it to be redesigned, can raise numerous issues, and threaten litigate if not satisfied. Years go by as participants tiptoe through a legal minefield. Meanwhile, bottlenecks and obsolete plants spew pollution into our air and water.
The solution, he explains, is to give an official authority to decide how much environmental review is necessary. You can read Philip’s full op-ed here.Comment ›
The Wall Street Journal wrote an editorial about Common Good’s “Two Years, Not Ten Years” report this past weekend, stating that it “offers a road map” to overhauling infrastructure permitting in the U.S.:
Common Good suggests building a process that shuttles projects through in a prompt two years. Environmental reviews should be handled by one designated official and kept to 300 pages; litigation should be restricted to the first 90 days after the permit is issued; the White House should be granted authority to appoint an agency as a ‘one-stop-shop’ for interstate projects.
Congress could address the permitting morass this fall as part of the transportation bill, and the presidential candidates could include the issue and a horror story or two in their agendas for faster economic growth. It’s hard to imagine a more sensible and politically achievable idea—and one better suited to restoring public confidence that government can carry out its basic duties.
Today Common Good released Two Years, Not Ten Years: Redesigning Infrastructure Approvals, our new report on the costs of delaying infrastructure permits. The report concludes that a permitting delay of six years on public projects costs the nation over $3.7 trillion, more than double the $1.7 trillion needed through the end of this decade to modernize America’s decrepit infrastructure.
Read the press release here.
Read the report here.
This report came out of the May 2015 forum Common Good co-hosted with the National Association of Manufacturers, the Bipartisan Policy Center, and Covington & Burling LLP.
Common Good is pushing for a radically simplified approach, with all reviews and approvals completed within two years. “Two Years, Not Ten Years” is our rallying cry.
We would welcome your comments and suggestions on this crucial national issue. You can e-mail them to firstname.lastname@example.org.Comment ›
Philip Howard recently sat down for an extensive conversation with Arthur Levitt on his Bloomberg Radio program “A Closer Look with Arthur Levitt.” Topics of discussion with the former SEC chairman included the civil service system, environmental review, education, and presidential authority.
Click here to listen to the interview.Comment ›
In a decision certifying two questions to the Connecticut Supreme Court, the United State Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit cites Philip Howard and his 2001 book The Collapse of the Common Good. The case involves, in part, whether a Connecticut school was negligent in not warning students of the possibility of contracting encephalitis during a school trip to China. In discussing the public policy implications of such a duty, the court writes on pp. 20-21:
Defining the scope of a school’s duty when it leads an international trip could have significant consequences for negligence litigation in Connecticut, which is home to many private and public schools. Although cost-benefit analysis in most cases assumes that all interested parties are represented in the case, this is not so here. The societal impact of finding a duty here extends far beyond Hotchkiss. To impose a duty on Connecticut schools to warn about or protect against risks as remote as tick-borne encephalitis might discourage field trips that serve important educational roles. See generally Philip K. Howard, The Collapse of the Common Good (2001). If the costs imposed on schools and non-profit organizations become too high, such trips might be curtailed or cease completely, depriving children of valuable opportunities. Public policy may thus require that participants bear the risks of unlikely injuries and illnesses such as the one that occurred in this case so that institutions can continue to offer these activities.
Click here to read the full decision.Comment ›
On Thursday, June 25, Mitch Daniels, the former Governor of Indiana and current President of Purdue University, provided testimony before the U.S. Senate Committee on Finance on how best to improve America’s decaying infrastructure. Before discussing financing—and the value of public-private partnerships in particular—Mr. Daniels, echoing Common Good’s arguments, decried America’s inefficient infrastructure approval process. Towards the end of his written comments on this issue, he cites Philip Howard’s call for “clear lines of authority” in the approval process. An excerpt:
While the financing of infrastructure is of vital national interest and the jurisdiction of this committee, upgrading our nation’s roads, ports and bridges will depend at least equally on a national agreement to reexamine the system that makes “shovel ready projects” a myth. No conversation about infrastructure would be complete without acknowledging that the permitting process is costly and broken.
At the center of the need for reform is the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, which requires all federal agencies to generate detailed assessments of the environmental impact of “major federal actions.” The implementation of NEPA has evolved over time, becoming more burdensome with every decade. According to one observer, in the 1970s a final EIS was typically 22 pages long. Today, an EIS commonly exceeds a thousand pages, despite regulations directing that statements should normally be less than 150 or 300 pages, depending on the complexity of the assessment.
Similarly, forty years ago it took the Federal Highway Administration two years on average to complete an EIS. Today, it typically takes 7 years. Wasting time and money has become the standard operating procedure.
This contrasts with much of the developed, environmentally conscious world. In Canada, regulations stipulate that after a 20-day public comment period, that nation’s environmental assessment agency has 25 days to determine whether an environmental assessment is needed. If one is necessary, the agency has 1-2 years to complete the assessment. Likewise, European Union regulations allow for a maximum of three and a half years for cross-national energy infrastructure projects.
Our inability to meet such standards in this country stymies growth and is costly to the environment. How many gallons of gasoline are wasted as Americans sit idly on congested roads? How many pollutants are emitted while projects that improve energy efficiency are mired in red tape? In my state, we reduced collective emissions by thousands of tons per year by clearing out a backlog of some 450 expired air and water permits. In some cases, these had been pending for more than 20 years, even though new permits invariably require lower limits and tighter restrictions than the expired version. Moving fast in government is one of the most pro-environment things you can do. As much as anyone, the most devout of environmentalists need efficient permitting and economic growth if they are to realize their goals and the purpose of NEPA.
The overarching problem is a culture where the burden of proof is always on the pro-growth side, which has to prove that creating a new job won’t hurt the environment, in even some infinitesimal way, interfere with some previously unheard of species, or disrupt some ground of alleged, often highly debatable historical value. Our national interests would be better served if we switched the presumption so that requests for more study beyond a reasonable review would need to prove that the additional delays wouldn’t unnecessarily cost jobs and hinder growth. Today’s regulatory regime can fairly be described as cruel in the damage it inflicts on unemployed and underemployed Americans.
As the chair of Common Good, Philip K. Howard has stated, “Red tape is not the same as good government...Congress must create clear lines of authority to make decisions....[A]n environmental official should have responsibility to draw lines on how much review is sufficient. Similarly, one agency should have overriding permitting authority, balancing the concerns of other agencies and departments.”
You can read his full written testimony here.Comment ›
Common Good released the following press release today. Click here to access it as a PDF.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: Chelsey Saatkamp, Goodman Media International
Nationwide Poll Shows An Overwhelming Number Of Voters Would Support A Candidate For President Who Advocates Cleaning Out Obsolete Laws And Regulations And Speeding Up Infrastructure Reviews
New York, NY – June 16, 2015 – A new nationwide poll of U.S. voters explores attitudes toward government reform, especially as it relates to cleaning out obsolete laws and regulations and speeding up infrastructure reviews. The poll conducted for Common Good by Clarus Research Group found the following:
• 78% of voters would be more inclined to vote for a candidate for President who made government reform, management performance and cleaning out obsolete laws and regulations major campaign issues.
• 74% would be more inclined to vote for a candidate for President who promised to take charge of federal infrastructure reviews to speed up the process.
Underlying those findings were the following views:
• 61% think a reason for infrastructure delays is that “No government official has the clear authority to cut through the red tape and give projects final approval”.
• 79% think there are no good reasons for infrastructure delays, which are mostly an example of wasteful and inefficient government.
• 79% think a reason for infrastructure delays is “The general inability of most government bureaucracies to do anything right or on time”.
• 81% think a reason for infrastructure delays is lawsuits filed to stop or slow down the process.
“As presidential candidates seek to gain traction with voters, they should take note of these poll findings,” said Philip K. Howard, Founder and Chair of Common Good, the nonpartisan reform coalition. “They reflect public frustration with two primary obstacles to job growth: infrastructure approvals, which can take a decade or longer, and obsolete laws and regulations, which undermine economic vitality.”
The poll was conducted for Common Good by Clarus Research Group, a nonpartisan survey firm based in Washington, DC, on June 7-10, 2015. The sample included 1,000 self-identified registered voters nationwide, who were interviewed by live telephone interviewing specialists via landlines and cells.
For more information or to talk with Common Good Chair Philip K. Howard, please contact Chelsey Saatkamp at 212-576-2700 x259 or email@example.com. For survey data verification, please contact Dr. Ronald A. Faucheux, President of Clarus Research Group, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Common Good (www.commongood.org) is a nonpartisan government reform coalition dedicated to restoring common sense to America. The Founder and Chair of Common Good is Philip K. Howard, a lawyer and author of most recently The Rule of Nobody (W. W. Norton), as well as The Death of Common Sense, Life Without Lawyers, and The Collapse of the Common Good.Comment ›
The Brookings Institution has reissued Herbert Kaufman’s 1977 classic Red Tape: It’s Origins, Uses, and Abuses with a new foreword by Common Good Chair Philip Howard.
Click here to learn more about the book, including how to order.Comment ›