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

Blog — Op-Ed

Presidential Candidates Cite “Two Years, Not Ten Years” Report

Hillary Clinton’s $500 billion infrastructure proposal announced on Sunday, November 29, includes a commitment to “cut red tape and enhance accountability,” citing Common Good’s report “Two Years, Not Ten Years.”

William Galston’s column today in the Wall Street Journal, discussing the Clinton plan, specifically endorses Common Good’s “landmark report,” noting that “[o]ther democracies can plan, fund and execute projects in less time than it takes in the U.S. to complete the required environmental-impact statements.”

In September Jeb Bush in his regulatory proposal also specifically called for infrastructure approvals to be completed “within two years instead of 10,” citing the Common Good report.

We hope other candidates will also address the high cost and environmental harm caused by infrastructure red tape. Radically simplifying the process is essential to modernizing America’s infrastructure. 

We ask all Common Good supporters who meet with presidential and congressional candidates to ask them about reforming red tape infrastructure. This is an important, nonpartisan issue that needs public discussion and candidate focus. 

#2YearsNot10

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Recent Essay Makes the Case for Health Courts

In a recent essay for the Stamford Advocate, Dr. Edward Volpintesta of Connecticut makes the case for health courts:

[H]ealth courts presided over by judges with special training in malpractice have great potential to lessen the adversarial instincts that characterize the medical liability system.

Health courts can 1) eliminate the adversarial attitude that has poisoned the current system, 2) settle cases fairly in weeks or months not the three or four years that they take now, 3) cut down on the legal wrangling that often goes on as cases wind their way through the system, 4) limit the incentives that lawyers have to make the suits as expensive as possible in order to increase their fees, 5) control unfair multimillion dollar verdicts, 6) reduce the court costs, and 7) reduce the hostilities between injured parties and physicians. …

Health courts are an idea whose time has come. The benefits for the public good are immense. It would be senseless and unreasonable if all parties concerned did not give it their wholehearted support.

He relates that the Connecticut State Medical Society recently decided to advocate for legislation that would establish health courts.

The health court concept was developed by Common Good in conjunction with the Harvard School of Public Health and with funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. It is the only reform proposal that can bring reliability to medical justice, the absence of which causes doctors to engage in the costly practice of defensive medicine. Health courts have been endorsed by medical societies, patient safety advocates, editorial boards, leading government officials—including President Obama—and the American public.

Read Dr. Volpintesta’s full essay here. Read Common Good Chair Philip K. Howard’s 2009 essay for the New York Times, “Just Medicine,” here.

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Cato Releases “Reviving Economic Growth” with Essay from Philip Howard

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.

Click here to read the full essay, and here to read more about the e-book.

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Philip Howard Writes in the Huffington Post

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.

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Wall Street Journal Writes Editorial About “Two Years, Not Ten Years” Report

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.

Read the full editorial, “Highway to Bureaucratic Hell,” here (subscription required). And read “Two Years, Not Ten Years” here.

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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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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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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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Philip Howard in the Daily Beast: Why Your Bridge Will Never Be Fixed

Philip Howard takes to the Daily Beast to explain why, even with adequate funding, infrastructure projects in America won’t proceed. An excerpt:

Red tape this dense is a problem of governing philosophy, not organizational efficiency. Modern government is organized to avoid giving anyone authority to make a decision. Balkanizing decisions among multiple departments is how we try to make sure every interest is satisfied. A typical project requires approval from a dozen or more government departments, at federal, state, and local levels. Each department considers itself the keeper of the flame, and, like a special interest, clings to its concerns notwithstanding countervailing public interest elsewhere. Applicants often find themselves caught in regulatory cross-fire, as, say, the Corps of Engineers battles against the EPA. Getting an infrastructure permit requires a process akin to negotiating an international treaty.

Efforts to accelerate approvals ignore the underlying defect: that multiple decision-makers almost always cause paralysis. Recent streamlining initiatives include a ‘permitting dashboard’ and new inter-agency committees charged to work things out. The 2012 ‘Moving Ahead for Progress’ transportation law included 30 pages of new procedures designed to accelerate approval. Therein lies the problem: All it accomplished was adding more mandatory meetings. A project gets bogged down as soon as there’s a disagreement. ‘Nothing is impossible,’ as one pundit put it, ‘until it’s sent to a committee.’

Philip goes on to offer three solutions to improve the approval process, including empowering environmental officials to decide when there’s been enough environmental review, creating a “one stop shop” for permitting, and increasing flexibility in procurement. Click here to read the full essay.

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