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Common Good Responds to CRS and DeFazio Critiques of “Two Years” Report

The Congressional Research Service (CRS), at the behest of House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Ranking Member Peter DeFazio, recently released a memorandum critiquing Common Good’s white paper, “Two Years, Not Ten Years: Redesigning Infrastructure Approvals,” that was published in 2015. Separately, Congressman DeFazio published a memorandum criticizing both the Common Good paper and various Trump Administration claims related to infrastructure approvals.

There is no serious disagreement that America’s infrastructure approval process is broken and requires streamlining. In October 2010, President Obama explained the lack of progress in infrastructure projects promised by the 2008 stimulus by declaring that “there’s no such thing as shovel-ready projects.” The need to expedite the process has been advocated for in reports and policy papers by leaders of both parties, including Hillary Clinton in her 2016 presidential campaign, by expert observers from all sides, including the Regional Plan Association, the Bipartisan Policy Center, the Progressive Policy Institute, a Stanford colloquium of experts (including former top DOT officials from both parties), and by a broad range of industry and environmental experts brought together by Common Good in six public forums.  

Since the publication of the Common Good paper, and at the request of the Obama Administration, Common Good has developed model legislative language that creates clear lines of authority for environmental review and permitting decisions, encourages early public participation, and tightens the timeframe for judicial review.

Click here to see our specific responses to the CRS and DeFazio memos.

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Philip Howard Testifies Before House Small Business Committee

UPDATE:   Inc. magazine’s Leigh Buchanan reports on Philip’s testimony and his three-step plan for streamlining small business regulation. Read here piece – “When It Comes to Regulations, the Deck Is Stacked Against Small Businesses” – here.

ORIGINAL POST:   Small businesses play a vital role in American commerce and culture, but are burdened by dense regulations that have built up over the past five decades. They do not have the time and resources to understand, much less comply with, this thicket of detailed dictates.

Philip Howard testified yesterday before the House Small Business Committee and proposed a new vision for small business regulation: a radically simplified code that focuses on regulatory goals not bureaucratic micromanagement.

Click the image below to watch his testimony – and click here to read his prepared remarks.

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Press Release: Survey Finds Majority of Voters Believe Government Must Be Rebuilt from the Ground Up

At a time of deep political divisions in the nation, American voters regardless of political party agree that “We will never fix broken government until we rebuild the system from the ground up.” That’s the finding of a national survey released today.

According to the survey, which was conducted for the nonpartisan Common Good by Clarus Research Group, 57% of American voters agree with that statement, including 60% of Republicans, 54% of Democrats, and 56% of independents. 38% of American voters disagreed.

The survey also found that a majority of American voters believe that “No matter who we elect to public office, things won’t ever change in Washington as long as the fundamental system of government is broken.” 57% of American voters agreed with that statement, including 62% of Republicans, 51% of Democrats, and 58% of independents. 37% of American voters disagreed.

An even larger majority of American voters believe that “Even when politicians promise change, they have a hard time making change happen because the underlying system won’t let them do it.” 74% of American voters agreed with that statement, including 78% of Republicans, 74% of Democrats, and 69% of independents. 22% of American voters disagreed.

Click here to read the full press release.

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Press Release: Gateway EIS Shows Thorough Review, Permitting Can Be Done in Less Than Two Years

The future of the Northeast rail corridor hangs on the timely construction of a new tunnel under the Hudson River connecting New York City and New Jersey. The current tunnel is 107 years old and was badly damaged by Superstorm Sandy. The Gateway Project would construct the new tunnel and rehabilitate the current one, and last week the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) was published 14 months after review began. The entire review process is scheduled to be completed within two years – a standard that Common Good set with its publication “Two Years, Not Ten Years: Redesigning Infrastructure Approvals.”

Two Years, Not Ten Years” found that red tape delays for infrastructure more than double the cost of large projects and harm the environment by prolonging pollution. A subsequent Common Good report, “Billions for Red Tape,” found that improved permitting for The Gateway Project could save taxpayers billions and avoid significant environmental harm. That report – issued in early May 2016, the same month in which the notice of intent was filed for The Gateway Project – underscored the need to speed up the review process.

Click here to read Common Good’s full press release.

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Common Good Survey Finds Voters Agree on a New Approach to Government Reform

While it's no surprise that most Americans (83%) are fed up with Washington, a new nationwide poll commissioned by Common Good also finds bipartisan support for the simpler and more flexible government structures we have proposed.

  • 55% of voters agree that "changing the people who run government will never fix the real problems if we don’t change the underlying system of government."
  • Over 60% of voters believe that government officials lack the authority to make decisions based on common sense and that "one-size fits all" rules don’t work in the real world.

The results of the survey make clear that voters of all stripes have lost faith both in traditional left/right solutions and in the bureaucratic framework that prevents people from using their common sense.

This growing demand for a new governing vision is reflected in recent columns calling for Congress to eliminate and reform obsolete law, create commissions to review and radically simplify regulations, speed up the federal permitting approval process, slash the bureaucracy and paperwork entangling our schools, and fundamentally overhaul the health care system. Common Good's ideas have entered the political zeitgeist. Now is the time to rally Americans around a singular vision - to remake government into radically simplified frameworks and liberate Americans to use their common sense.

Click here to read the full press release for more poll results.

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Common Good Responds to Critique of “Two Years, Not Ten Years”


This weekend, Washington Post Columnist George Will weighed in on CAP’s critique of Common Good’s “Two Years, Not Ten Years” report:

Twenty months after Howard published his article, the response by the Center for American Progress (CAP) shows how far we have defined efficiency down: It celebrates the fact that federal environmental statements average only 4.6 years. That would be bad enough if such reviews were all or even most of the problem. Actually, there are other kinds of reviews and other layers of government involved, as with the Bayonne Bridge — 47 permits from 19 federal, state and local agencies.

CAP says that “the principal restraint facing state and local governments contemplating megaprojects is money, not environmental review.” But, again, this ignores myriad other time-consuming reviews and the costs, in both construction and social inefficiencies, driven by lost time.

Will concludes by commenting on the absurdity of including Howard among “hardcore opponents of environmental review.” Click here to read the full op-ed (“How We Waste a Massive Amount of Infrastructure Money — Before Building Even Starts”).


In September 2015, Common Good issued a white paper – “Two Years, Not Ten Years: Redesigning Infrastructure Approvals” – which called for streamlining review and approvals to two years. The paper has been embraced by political leaders from all sides, including the Obama and Trump administrations, presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, and leaders of Congress, by experts in infrastructure, and by policy leaders from all sides, including the Progressive Policy Institute and the Bipartisan Policy Center.

In May 2017, the Center for American Progress released a report defending the current lengthy process and slurring Common Good and other reformers as "environmental review opponents." Ironically,  as we found in "Two Years, Not Ten Years," spending years on environmental review is generally harmful to the environment, by prolonging bottlenecks that cause pollution. Other greener countries such as Germany and Canada complete environmental review and permitting for large projects in less than two years. Just last year CAP itself called for "expedited environmental review and permitting for infrastructure projects of regional or national significance."

Click here to read Common Good’s full response: "Red Tape, Not Progress: The Center for American Progress Defends Bureaucratic Paralysis."

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Common Good Releases Animated Video on Why Congress Needs to Streamline Infrastructure Approvals

Common Good today released a three-minute animated video explaining why Congress needs to streamline the approval process for infrastructure projects. America has an infrastructure backlog totaling more than $4 trillion, in part because the current permitting process is so ludicrous. It can take more than a decade for major projects.

Click the image below to watch the video:

Congressional Roadblock” was created for Common Good by Alex Marino, a former writer for “The Daily Show.” The cost of unnecessary delays is explored in detail in a September 2015 report by Common Good’s Philip Howard titled “Two Years, Not Ten Years.” It found that red tape delays for infrastructure more than double the cost of large projects and dramatically harm the environment by prolonging pollution.

Click here to read Common Good’s full press release on the video.

Click here to read the one-pager we released during Infrastructure Week 2017 detailing Congress’ role in creating the current broken system.

And click here to read our proposed three-page piece of legislation that would solve much of the problem.

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Ripon Forum: Fixing the Civil Service

Writing for the Ripon Forum, Common Good Chair Philip Howard argues that the only way to fix Washington is to empower government officials to make sensible choices. He writes:

Americans are angry not just because Washington is too fat, but because it’s so stupid. The failure is imbedded in the idea that government can be a machine. Indeed, the operating philosophy of government is that regulation should be mindless compliance. That’s why rulebooks are a thousand pages, when the Constitution is only 15 pages. …

What replaces red tape? People. 

Human responsibility is the only alternative to mindless bureaucracy. Law can set goals and provide guiding principles, but common sense is impossible unless people – both officials and citizens – have the freedom to use their judgment at the point of implementation.

This will not happen, however, unless officials also are also subject to accountability – something anathema to today's civil service:

No one will give officials flexibility to use common sense unless they are accountable when they fail or are mean-spirited. Now we get to the link between regulatory reform and civil service reform. Accountability is basically nonexistent for federal civil servants. Job performance is irrelevant. Indeed, more people die on the job than are terminated or demoted.

Read Howard’s full essay here to see his prescription for fixing America’s civil service system.

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Philip Howard Discusses Infrastructure, Broken Government in Guardian Interview

Following his participation in the Trump Administration’s Strategic and Policy Forum, Philip Howard was interviewed by the Guardian newspaper about a possible way forward to fix America’s broken infrastructure – both in terms of funding and streamlining the permitting process:

Philip Howard, a lawyer and advocate of “government simplification”, took part in a break-out session with Elaine Chao, the transportation secretary; Bayo Ogunlesi, chairman of Global Infrastructure Partners; and Matt Rose, executive chairman of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railway, which then reported back to Trump.

The president has pledged to unleash $1tn in private and public investments to repair bridges, improve the electrical grid and broadband internet, upgrade airports and potentially rebuild hospitals for veterans, but Howard said Trump acknowledged even this sum might not be enough.

“That was a figure that people discussed but it wasn’t hard and fast and in fact I think President Trump at one point mentioned that perhaps it should be more,” he told the Guardian after leaving the White House grounds. “Fixing infrastructure’s really important and it’s going to cost. He was very hopeful that Democrats, certainly on the infrastructure part of this, would be very cooperative.” …

Howard called for an overhaul of the infrastructure permitting process, cutting through red tape for faster decisions. “There’s been this accretion of well-meaning laws over the last 50 years with no one in charge of drawing lines, so the process can take a decade or longer to get an infrastructure project,” he said. “The effect of that is that it more than doubles the cost of infrastructure and it’s also dramatically harmful to the environment, ironically, because conducting an environmental review just prolongs bottlenecks.

“So there needs to be a new mechanism, basically clear lines of authority to make decisions. Congress caused the problem and, although the administration can do certain things by itself, Congress needs to solve that problem. It’s kind of a mosh pit of overlapping regulatory requirements often run by agencies with dramatically different missions that don’t even like each other.”

Howard concluded the interview with what’s needed to fix broken government, particularly in terms of addressing the accumulation of old law:

“I do think [President Trump] has his finger on the endemic problem with this legacy government, a government that’s run by laws written over the last 50 or 60 years that nobody ever goes and fixes. You end up having out of date computer systems using eight-inch floppy disks, stuff like that, that costs a lot more to maintain than it would take to build a new one entirely.

“Somehow or other we need to change the operating system of government so that it can make sensible choices where today sensible choices are basically illegal. I think he understands the problem. I’m not sure he or anyone has come to grips with the solution.”

Read the whole interview here

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Philip Howard in the Daily Beast, Daily News: How to Get America Building

President Trump has vowed to create a trillion-dollar program to rebuild America's crumbling infrastructure. He also recently announced a new White House Office of American Innovation, led by Jared Kushner, to apply business techniques to make government work better. So, how would a business fix our country's massive infrastructure problems?

In two new articles, Philip Howard lays out a business approach to rebuilding infrastructure and shines the spotlight on Congress' failure to clear out decades of red tape and, equally irresponsible, to provide funding. Infrastructure doesn't grow on trees.

Click here to read his March 31 Daily Beast essay.

Click here to read his April 2 Daily News essay.

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