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News and stories from the campaign to reclaim individual responsibility and liberate Americans from bureaucracy and legal fear.

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Mitch Daniels Decries America’s Inefficient Infrastructure Approval Process, Cites Philip Howard

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.

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Common Good Press Release: Voters Would Support Government Reform

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
212-576-2700; csaatkamp@goodmanmedia.com

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, NYJune 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 csaatkamp@goodmanmedia.com. For survey data verification, please contact Dr. Ronald A. Faucheux, President of Clarus Research Group, at rfaucheux@clarusrg.com.

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.

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Philip Howard Authors Foreword to Reissue of “Red Tape”

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.

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Gene Steuerle: Empowering the Next President—and the Next Congress

Using recent examples on trade and Medicare—and with the recognition that most all of Washington is structurally broken—the Urban Institute’s Gene Steuerle argues that “now is the ideal time to empower both the president and Congress to better perform their assigned functions.” He explains, citing Common Good Chair Philip Howard’s new book:

In his acclaimed book The Rule of Nobody, Philip K. Howard similarly argues that the president must have executive powers restored, to be able to avoid wasteful duplication and unnecessary bureaucracy, to expedite important public works, to refuse to spend allocated funds when circumstances change and the expenditure becomes wasteful, and to reorganize executive agencies.

When Congress limits the president on executive matters, no matter how small, it isn’t empowering itself. Instead, it entangles itself in complex and contradictory legislation, attempting to appease every interest (no matter how small), while weakening itself as it spends less and less time tackling the big issues that it is elected to address.

All this does not let recent presidents off the hook. The constant expansion in political appointees and the centralization of power in the White House over several decades has led to even more roadblocks to progress. When every decision must go through several political layers, almost no good idea can filter through to the president. When so many public statements and decisions on millions of government actions must be fed through the White House, civil servants and even top political appointees can’t function well, and they often retreat to doing nothing risky and seldom attacking limitations or failures in their own programs. Among the further consequences, many excellent government officials retreat to the private sector. Who wants to work where you are not allowed to do your job?

You can read his full essay here.

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Lenore Skenazy Makes the Case for “Free-Range Kids” on The Daily Show

Common Good friend and founder of the “Free-Range Kids” movement appeared on last night’s Daily Show to make the case for why we should allow our kids to navigate risk. “I think that we are overestimating danger and underestimating our kids almost all the time,” she argues. “Fear is keeping our kids inside—helpless, indoors, bored, fat, diabetic, depressed.”

Click the image below to watch the full segment.

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Common Good Event: “Paralyzed Government: Then What?”

The U.S. government is structurally paralyzed and requires a reset to become functional. The paralysis is not simply political but structural. Red tape blocks vital initiatives and obstructs rather than supports public goals. The nation’s infrastructure is crumbling, taking as long as a decade to get needed approvals to undertake essential projects. Innovation is stifled; the U.S. now ranks 46th globally in ease of starting a business. America’s economic competitiveness is undercut, along with millions of potential jobs.  

The roots of public paralysis grow deep in our culture—avoiding authority, giving any group an effective veto, and letting special interests preserve the status quo. This discussion—“Paralyzed Government: Then What?”—will bring together leading thinkers who have each recently published books suggesting the need not just for new leadership, but major overhauls of governing structures.  

Participants in the discussion, which will take place on Wednesday, June 17, and be moderated by John Avlon, Editor-in-Chief of the Daily Beast, will be:

  • Francis Fukuyama, author of Political Order and Political Decay; Professor, Stanford University;
  • John Micklethwait, co-author of The Fourth Revolution; Editor-in-Chief, Bloomberg L.P.; and
  • Philip K. Howard, author of The Rule of Nobody; Chair, Common Good.
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Philip Howard in the New York Daily News: Rebuild NYC’s Broken Bureaucracy

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and other elected officials are right to call for increased investment in infrastructure, writes Philip Howard in the New York Daily News. But many policymakers, he continues, ignore the impact bureaucracy has on enacting needed projects:

No one designed this crazy jungle of red tape. It just grew here and there, over the past 50 years, until nobody—not the mayor, not even the President—has authority to make needed decisions.

New York City’s infrastructure is old. Rail tunnels were built over a century ago. One in three bridges needs major work. The useful life of some of these vital links cannot survive a decade of legal micromanagement before construction even begins.

The system of red tape must be scrapped. Officials need a new legal framework for making responsible decisions in a certain timeframe.

You can read Philip’s entire op-ed here.

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Philip Howard in the Washington Post: The High Cost of Red Tape

Writing in the Washington Post in the wake of the recent deadly Amtrak derailment, Philip Howard explains why it’s not only money that is hindering infrastructure improvement. An excerpt:

[A]lmost every category of U.S. infrastructure is in a dangerous or obsolete state — roads and bridges, power generation and transmission, water treatment and delivery, ports and air traffic control. There is no partisan divide on what is needed: a national initiative to modernize our 50- to 100-year-old infrastructure. The upside is as rosy as the status quo is dire. The United States can enhance its competitiveness, achieve a greener footprint and create upward of 2 million jobs.

So what’s the problem? Modernizing infrastructure requires money and permits. Congress needs to create a long-term funding plan and radically reduce the red tape that drives up costs and ensnarls projects in their infancy. Instead, Congress uses short-term fixes to get past the looming insolvency of the Highway Trust Fund. Congressional efforts to cut red tape are similarly weak.

You can read the full op-ed here.

The Washington Post makes a similar argument in a Wednesday editorial, writing: “Congress also should reduce the time and hassle it takes to get infrastructure projects approved.”

Expediting infrastructure approvals was the topic of a forum Common Good hosted in DC on Tuesday as part of Infrastructure Week 2015. The forum’s cohosts were the Bipartisan Policy Center, the National Association of Manufacturers, and Covington & Burling. You can read reports on the forum by Government Executive here and by NAM here.

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May 12 Forum: Rethinking Infrastructure Approvals

Part of Infrastructure Week 2015 | www.infrastructureweek.org

View invitation as a PDF.

Common Good, the Bipartisan Policy Center, the National Association of Manufacturers, and Covington & Burling LLP invite you to attend a morning forum on accelerating infrastructure approvals on Tuesday, May 12 in Washington, DC.

The forum, which is part of Infrastructure Week 2015, will include keynote addresses by key members of the Administration and Congress (invitations in process), a presentation on best practices from other countries, plus two panels of experts discussing how to achieve these goals:

1. Better environmental reviews, accomplished in months or a few years, not a decade.
2. How to consolidate permits. 

The forum’s goal is to explore bold proposals for simplifying, accelerating, and improving the infrastructure approval process. Red tape must be cut if America wants to reap all the benefits of new infrastructure projects—enhanced competitiveness, millions of jobs, and a greener environmental footprint.

Participants include leaders of industry, labor, government, and environmental protection (list not final):

Keynote Remarks: U.S. Deputy Secretary of Transportation Victor Mendez

Robyn M. Boerstling, National Association of Manufacturers
Clarke Bruno, Anbaric Transmission
Shawn Denstedt Q.C., Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt (Canada)
E. Donald Elliott, Covington & Burling; formerly of EPA
Patrick J. Foye, The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey
Gary S. Guzy, Covington & Burling; formerly of CEQ and EPA
Philip K. Howard, Common Good
Kelly S. Huffman, Poseidon Water
Sarah Kline, Bipartisan Policy Center
Deron Lovaas, Natural Resources Defense Council
Nick A. Malyshev, OECD
Diana C. Mendes, AECOM
Joann Papageorgis, The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey
John D. Porcari, Parsons Brinckerhoff; formerly of the U.S. Department of Transportation
Mark R. Tercek, The Nature Conservancy

For more information, visit Infrastructure Week 2015’s website at www.infrastructureweek.org.

Event Details:

Title: Rethinking Infrastructure Approvals

When: Tuesday, May 12, 2015; 9:00 AM to 12:30 PM, with lunch to follow. Registration and breakfast begin at 8:15 AM.

Where: Covington & Burling LLP, 10th Floor, One CityCenter, 850 Tenth Street, NW, Washington, DC 20001

To RSVP, please e-mail your name, position, affiliation, and contact information to Ruth Mary Giverin at rmgiverin@commongood.org. All attendees must register before the day of the event. Please e-mail Ruth with any questions as well.

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Experts Call on ASTM to Rethink New, Risk-Averse Playground Standards

Experts affiliated with the British Columbia Injury Research and Prevention Unit (BCIRPU) are calling upon ASTM, the international standards-setting body, to hold off on implementing new, “more absorbent” playground surfacing standards. In a recent article titled “Can we go too far when it comes to children’s injury prevention?,” the BCIRPU authors explain that the new standards—designed to reduce head injuries—will do more harm than good:

At first blush, this may seem like a great idea. Who wouldn’t want their child to avoid head injuries??! Not as evident are the ramifications, both immediate and long term, of a decision like this. While playground safety standards are not policies and are developed by a voluntary organization, they are typically applied as policy. This is because of liability concerns. If anything goes wrong, the playground provider wants to be able to support the fact that their playground met the safety standards as a measure of due diligence.

So what this means is that every time there is a playground standard change, schools, daycare centres, recreation facilities and so on across the country have to rip out equipment, surfacing, etc., to comply with new standards.

They go on to delineate five particular issues with implementing stricter surfacing standards, which UK childhood expert Tim Gill succinctly recaps on his blog Rethinking Childhood:

1.  Head injuries on the playground are extremely rare and there is no evidence that they are increasing on playgrounds.

2.  The head injury criterion (HIC) is measured by dropping a head form straight down, but children do not fall that way.

3.  Ripping out and replacing surfacing is a very expensive proposition.

4.  Kids want and need to take risks and experience uncertainty. So reducing risks has major ramifications.

5.  We are doing a miserable job of providing stimulating play opportunities for children.

Playgrounds with no risk, the BCIRPU authors explain—and Philip Howard and Common Good have often argued—have less value in teaching children about themselves and the world around them, and they can actually become more dangerous as children “climb higher and fall harder” in order to make them more interesting. 

Read the full BCIRPU article here, and Tim Gill’s commentary here. ASTM will begin voting on the new standards in the coming days—Common Good joins BCIRPU, Gill, and the host of others calling on them to reconsider implementing the proposal before them. 

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