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Common Good Comments on White House Announcement on Infrastructure Reforms

Common Good issued the following press release this afternoon. Click here to read it at PR Newswire—and here to read it as a PDF.

CONTACT: Chelsey Saatkamp – Goodman Media International


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

For more information or to talk with Common Good Chair Philip K. Howard, please contact Chelsey Saatkamp at 212-576-2700 x259 or

Common Good ( 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.

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Common Good Releases New Report: “Two Years, Not Ten Years”

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

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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 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 |

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

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 All attendees must register before the day of the event. Please e-mail Ruth with any questions as well.

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Paper: “America Today: Burkean Nation?”

In a paper addressing Edmund Burke’s concept of nationhood, Alfred University Professor Robert Heineman draws from The Rule of Nobody. He writes in part:

In his aptly titled book, The Rule of Nobody (2014), Philip K. Howard examines the deterioration of values and authority in contemporary American culture. He chronicles the attempts of legislatures to compensate for the moral vacuum in American public policy by enacting detailed legislation, thinking that the greater the detail the more likely that national goals will be met. The problem, of course, has been that legislation must be implemented and that implementing agencies have taken refuge in process. Procedures have replaced individual judgment, and, most important, this moral neutrality, perhaps impotence would be a better term, has led to egregious examples of outright stupidity, if not tragedy. In Howard’s words, ‘The philosophy of neutral rules pushed society another giant step toward immorality by basically abandoning any pretense of moral responsibility. Just go by the book.’

Professor Heineman’s paper, “America Today: Burkean Nation?,” was delivered on February 28, 2015 at the Edmund Burke Society Conference at Villanova University. You can read a draft copy of it here.

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The Future of the Individual: Video Excerpts

Click on the images below to watch excerpts from The Future of the Individual, Common Good and Columbia University’s November 6 forum on the social and economic developments that are diminishing the role of the individual in the modern world.

Here’s Common Good Chair Philip Howard on how we have the wrong idea of “the rule of law”:

Here’s former Indianapolis mayor and New York City deputy mayor Stephen Goldsmith on how innovation within government is “illegal”:

Click here to watch Mr. Goldsmith’s entire presentation.

Here’s Doctored author Dr. Sandeep Jauhar on the effects of bureaucracy on health care:

Click here to watch Dr. Jauhar’s entire presentation.

Here’s Brookings senior fellow Robert Litan on possible solutions:

Click here to watch Mr. Litan’s entire presentation.

And click here to read Philip and Nobel laureate Edmund Phelps’ joint statement from the event, “Humans vs. Bureaucracy.”

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Bob Litan on the Need for Sunsets, Review Commissions

Writing in Foreign Affairs, Bob Litan of the Brookings Institution makes the case for sunsets and review commissions to clear the regulatory jungle hindering American entrepreneurship. An excerpt:

More broadly, Congress should regularly reevaluate and update federal regulations, many of which pose unnecessary barriers to entry for new firms. Federal regulations are expensive, often costing small businesses thousands of dollars per employee, and such costs pose a distinct disadvantage for younger and smaller firms, which rarely have the resources to hire full-time attorneys or compliance officers. To facilitate the dismantling of unnecessary regulations, Congress should include sunset provisions on all major federal rules so that every ten to 15 years or so, Congress is forced to reevaluate its regulations, removing those that do not pass a cost-benefit test and improving those that do. Congress could also authorize a bipartisan panel of experts to identify outmoded regulations and submit them on a regular basis to lawmakers for an up-or-down vote.

You can read his full essay (“Start-Up Slowdown: How the United States Can Regain Its Entrepreneurial Edge”) here. Common Good and Philip Howard have previoulsy made similar proposals—click here to read Philip’s proposed “Bill of Responsibilities” from The Rule of Nobody

Litan also made this case at Common Good’s recent forum, The Future of the Individual—click on the image below to watch an excerpt from his presentation.

You can watch his complete presentation from the forum here.

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The Future of the Individual: A Forum with Philip Howard and Edmund Phelps

Event program with agenda.

On Thursday, November 6, Common Good and Columbia University’s Center on Capitalism and Society will hold an afternoon forum in New York City on reviving the conditions for individual initiative in America. The event’s hosts are Common Good’s Philip K. Howard and Nobel laureate Edmund S. Phelps of Columbia’s Center on Capitalism and Society. Other expected participants include:

  • William R. Brody, MD, Salk Institute
  • Stephen Goldsmith, former Mayor of Indianapolis
  • Anthony Gottlieb, former Executive Editor of The Economist
  • Heather R. Higgins, Randolph Foundation
  • Kay S. Hymowitz, Manhattan Institute
  • Sandeep Jauhar, MD, author of Doctored
  • Daniel Kahneman, Princeton University
  • Robert E. Litan, Brookings Institution
  • James Mackintosh, Financial Times
  • Peter Pazzaglini, Columbia University
  • Robert Pondiscio, Thomas B. Fordham Institute
  • Andrzej Rapaczynski, Columbia Law School
  • Richard Robb, Columbia University
  • Esa Saarinen, Aalto University (Finland)
  • Robert J. Shiller, Yale University
  • William H. Simon, Columbia Law School
  • Juan Vicente Sola, University of Buenos Aires
  • Mark C. Taylor, Columbia University

The forum will address how bureaucracy, corporatism, and cultural trends have diminished the room for individual autonomy and initiative, and will explore possible solutions. Reforms to expand individual opportunities and ownership of daily choices include simplifying regulatory structures, changing corporate incentives away from short-term thinking, fostering decentralized government, discouraging uniform solutions to social problems, sponsoring local manufacturing to build the conditions for know-how, redirecting education toward imagination and creativity, and expanding the public narrative to highlight the role of human initiative in all accomplishment.

The forum will consist of short opening presentations, followed by four panels. A cocktail hour will conclude the event.

Event Details

Title: The Future of the Individual

Date: Thursday, November 6

Time: 1:00 PM to 5:30 PM (followed by a cocktail hour). Registration and lunch begin at noon. Event program with agenda.

Location: Covington & Burling, 43rd Floor, The New York Times Building, 620 Eighth Avenue, New York, NY

RSVP: Registration required. Please e-mail your name, title, and affiliation to Ruth Mary Giverin at Please e-mail Ruth with any questions as well.

This event is made possible by the generous support of the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.

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John Micklethwait & Philip K. Howard on Commissions

The Economist's editor-in-chief, John Micklethwait, recently joined Philip Howard for a discussion around their two recent books: Micklethwait's The Fourth Revolution and Howard's The Rule of Nobody. Watch an excerpt of their conversation here:

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