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Joint Common Good / Stanford University Press Release: Renewing American Infrastructure

On March 1st, the Stanford University Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law, Stanford’s Global Projects Center and Common Good released the below joint press release on a February 2017 roundtable that addressed policy reforms to accelerate and enhance the development and redevelopment of critical US infrastructure.

Click here to read the release on the Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law’s website.


The Stanford University Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law, the Stanford Global Projects Center and Common Good hosted the “Renewing American Infrastructure” Roundtable February 9th and 10th, 2017.

  • The roundtable brought together senior leaders and policymakers from the public and private sectors and academia to Stanford for a two day workshop
  • Attendees discussed federal policy reforms to accelerate and enhance the development and redevelopment of critical economic and social infrastructure in the United States, with a focus on maximizing the public benefit of new federal spending and institutional reforms to streamline investment at the federal, state and local levels.

Stanford University – March 1, 2017. The Renewing American Infrastructure Roundtable was held on February 9th and 10th, 2017 to discuss federal reforms and policy changes in the US to accelerate the improvement of our critical economic and social infrastructure. The roundtable was hosted jointly by the Stanford Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law (CDDRL), the Stanford Global Projects Center (GPC) and Common Good, a non-partisan reform group.

Participants included policymakers and leaders from the public and private sector as well as academia. Topics of discussion included policy and regulatory reforms to make infrastructure investment more efficient, and potential mechanisms to finance a new federal infrastructure initiative in the US.

While acknowledging that additional federal spending on infrastructure will help, the roundtable participants formed a consensus that policy and institutional reforms are also sorely needed. Many US institutions and policies for approving and developing infrastructure projects are extremely outdated and have not kept pace with best practices globally. Any new federal infrastructure initiative will need to combine policy reforms with additional Federal, State, local and private spending to be successful. 

The participants developed four thematic areas for policy reform recommendations to accelerate the improvement of US economic and social infrastructure. Those initiatives include:

  1. The role of private investment and management expertise should be dramatically expanded. Even where projects are funded predominantly by the public sector, public-private partnerships (P3s) can optimize project delivery with “design-build-operate-maintain” contracts that account for the life-cycle costs of keeping infrastructure working in good order.
  2. Nonetheless, it is an illusion to think that private sector resources will be sufficient by themselves to fix the problem: many necessary infrastructure projects will not generate the revenues needed to attract private investment. The federal government will need to provide new resources, through new borrowing or taxation, to cover needs like the simple maintenance of existing structures. To consolidate federal infrastructure investment and procurement resources, the Roundtable proposes creating a new Federal Infrastructure Agency headed by a cabinet-level appointee with responsibility for national infrastructure spending and project support that are currently spread across numerous agencies. Consolidating responsibility is essential to set priorities, coordinate projects and afford the public transparency in the allocation of federal resources. This agency and cabinet member could be set up for a designated time period – say ten years – to assess its effectiveness before extending its mandate beyond the sunset date.
  3. Planning and permitting must be streamlined so that projects can move from the drawing board to shovels in the ground in no more than two years. These processes must be overhauled so that public input is solicited early in the planning, not after a project is cast in stone. Clear lines of authority must be created to decide issues about environmental review to avoid years of unnecessary delay, overseen by the Chair of the Council of Environmental Quality. Finally, the new Secretary of Infrastructure should have authority to resolve disagreements among different agencies, including pre-empting state and local authorities if necessary to avoid delay on projects of national importance. 
  4. State and local governments should retain primary responsibility for prioritizing infrastructure investment and funding within their jurisdictions.

Specific policy recommendations and institutional changes under each of these initiatives will be published in the weeks and months following the roundtable. The roundtable was chaired by Stanford Professors Francis Fukuyama and Raymond Levitt, and Philip Howard, founder of Common Good.


Stanford Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law
Djurdja Padejski, Communications Manager
T: 650.723.9959

Stanford Global Projects Center
Terra Strong, Program Manager
T: 650.725.2380

Common Good
Emma McKinstry
T: 203.912.7174

About the Stanford Center for Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law
The Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law (CDDRL) at Stanford University has collaborated widely with academics, policymakers and practitioners around the world to advance knowledge about the conditions for and interactions among democracy, broad-based economic development, human rights, and the rule of law. CDDRL is home to a dynamic interdisciplinary research community of innovative and distinguished faculty members and scholars from around the world. Their work spans the globe and bridges the divide between academic research and policy analysis, forging partnerships not only with other research centers but also with international development agencies, governments and civil society organizations in numerous countries.
More information can be found at

About the Stanford Global Projects Center
The Stanford Global Projects Center (GPC) is an interdisciplinary research center at Stanford University that seeks to facilitate understanding of the financing and development of critical infrastructure globally. The center conducts research on the policies and practices of institutional investors getting capital into the real economy, and studies best practices of public agencies in investing in and developing new infrastructure. The center also facilitates engagement among academic, government and industry leaders in the sector.
More information can be found at

About Common Good
Common Good is a nonpartisan reform coalition that offers Americans a new way to look at law and government. We propose practical, bold ideas to restore common sense to all three branches of government – legislative, executive and judicial – based on the principles of individual freedom, responsibility and accountability. Common Good’s philosophy is based on a simple but powerful idea: People, not rules, make things happen. This idea is fundamental to how we write laws and regulations, structure government agencies and resolve legal disputes. It affects all our lives, every day. Our mission is to overhaul governmental and legal systems to allow people to make sensible choices. We believe Americans need to be liberated to do their best.
More information can be found at

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Philip Howard in the Daily Beast: How Trump Can Save Almost $1 Trillion in 10 Easy Steps

President Trump has called for $54 billion in cuts to discretionary spending, with the EPA and the Department of State floated as likely targets. Such cuts will stoke the flames of partisanship while delivering relatively minuscule savings. Writing in the Daily Beast, Philip Howard explains that there are hundreds of billions of dollars worth of low-hanging fruit the President could target instead, resulting in substantial federal savings and millions of new private sector jobs:

Donald Trump has a mandate to clean out the mess in Washington. Cutting waste is critical. This golden opportunity may fail, however, if the Trump administration starts a culture war by defunding EPA and other agencies popular with liberals, while leaving most waste untouched. There’s no need to stall on take-off: Washington’s waste pile is so high that President Trump could energize the economy by bulldozing bureaucracy that serves no public purpose.

Read the full essay here.

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Daily Beast: How Trump Can Save Almost $1 Trillion in 10 Easy Steps

Read the essay here.

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February 9-10 Infrastructure Workshop: Renewing American Infrastructure

On February 9 and 10, Common Good, Stanford University’s Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law, and Stanford’s Global Projects Center will co-host a workshop titled “Renewing American Infrastructure” at Stanford. 


New investment in American infrastructure has become a centerpiece of the new Trump administration, and was one issue on which both candidates agreed during the election. As the administration prepares to roll out its initiative on this issue, there are a number of large, unanswered questions. How will resources for new infrastructure be generated, and at what scale? What will the role of the private sector be? How can we streamline and reduce the regulatory burden faced by infrastructure projects, so that they can be completed in a timely and cost-effective fashion? How do we de-politicize the resource allocation process, and ensure fair access to funding? What is the correct balance between the federal government and the states in overseeing projects? And finally, how do we make sure that projects incorporate new technologies, both for the sake of sustainability, and to integrate complex infrastructure environments?


Thursday, February 9

1:30 to 4:30 PM

Panel 1: Financing a New Federal Infrastructure Initiative

  • Mary Peters, former US Secretary of Transportation
  • David Hayes, Stanford Law School
  • Daniel Flanagan, Infrastructure Investment Services
  • Ross Israel, QIC
  • Bob Hellman, American Infrastructure Partners
  • Moderator: Philip K. Howard, Common Good

Friday, February 10

9:00 AM to 12:30 PM

Panel 2: Streamlining the Regulatory Burden

  • Keith Hennessey, Bechtel
  • John Porcari, former US Deputy Secretary of Transportation
  • Ed Krapels, Anbaric
  • Philip K. Howard, Common Good
  • Moderator: Francis Fukuyama, Stanford University

Panel 3: Ensuring Fairness in Resource Allocation

  • Patrick Foye, Port Authority of New York and New Jersey
  • Dan Carol, Georgetown University
  • David Spector, Colorado High Performance Transportation Enterprise
  • Moderator: Ray Levitt, Stanford University

1:30 to 4:30 PM

Panel 4: Incentivizing Innovation and Sustainability 

  • Scott Zuchorski, Fitch Ratings
  • Anthony Ferrari, Crimson Infrastructure
  • Stephen Beatty, KPMG
  • Moderator: Michael Bennon, Stanford University

Panel 5: Policy Recommendations

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Press release (pdf)

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Wall Street Journal: The President’s Right to Say ‘You’re Fired’

Read the essay here.

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Philip Howard in the WSJ, American Interest: Current Civil Service System Is Unconstitutional

Both sides of the aisle recognize that the civil service system is terminally ossified and needs to be rebuilt. But how do we get rid of the current, bloated bureaucratic mess in the face of union power and public indifference?

In today's Wall Street Journal, Philip Howard argues that the civil service system, as currently structured, is unconstitutional and could be rebuilt by an executive order that honors principles of neutral hiring and fosters a culture of excellence and accountability. The full essay in the American Interest, with compelling constitutional history on the importance of executive authority, is here.

From the Wall Street Journal op-ed, “The President’s Right to Say ‘You’re Fired’":

President Trump wants to overhaul the civil service. Even ardent liberals agree it needs to be rebuilt, but past efforts at reform have withered in Congress under union power and public indifference. There’s a more direct path: Mr. Trump can repudiate civil service in its current form as a violation of the Constitution’s mandate that ‘the executive power shall be vested in a President.’… Because of civil-service laws passed by Congress many years ago, the president has direct authority over a mere 2% of the federal workforce. The question is whether those laws are constitutional. Does Congress have the power to tell the president that he cannot terminate inept or insubordinate employees? The answer, I believe, is self-evident. A determined president could replace the civil-service system on his own, by executive order. The move would doubtless be challenged in court, but it would likely be upheld, especially if the new framework advances legitimate goals, honors principles of neutral hiring and is designed to foster a culture of excellence.

Read the full op-ed here.

From the American Interest essay, “Civil Service Reform: Reassert the President’s Constitutional Authority”:

In 2014 the Partnership for Public Service issued a report describing civil service as ‘a relic of a bygone era,’ and called for ‘a new civil service framework,’ including ending the presumption of lifetime careers. Like other good government reports, however, it treated accountability with kid gloves. But once the power of accountability is restored, designing a new civil service system requires no genius. The basic elements are: 1) neutral hiring, without the endless red tape of the current system; 2) a safety net to treat public employees fairly if they are let go; and 3) a neutral body (perhaps the current Merit System Protection Board) with responsibility to guard against unfairness.

Read the full essay here.

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American Interest: Civil Service Reform: Reassert the President’s Constitutional Authority

Read the essay here.

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Trump Administration and Senate Democrats Endorse Need to Streamline Infrastructure Approvals

Yesterday the Trump administration embraced elements of Common Good's infrastructure plan, in an executive order aimed at streamlining approvals. The order echoes our earlier proposal to give the chair of the CEQ the responsibility to speed up important projects by designating certain projects “high priority” based on “consideration of the project's importance to the general welfare, value to the Nation, [and] environmental benefits[.]”

The White House press release describing the executive order referred to the findings of our “Two Years, Not Ten Years” report, stating that “[a]ccording to one study, our antiquated power [grid] wastes the equivalent of 200 coal-fired power plants, water pipes leak trillions of gallons of water, and gridlock on roads and railroads wastes hundreds of billions annually.”

Senate Democrats also endorsed the need to streamline approvals in their blueprint, released yesterday, to spend $1T on infrastructure.

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Right of Way Magazine Reprints “Billions for Red Tape”

For the cover story of their January/February 2017 issue, Right of Way magazine reprinted the majority of Common Good’s May 2016 report “Billions for Red Tape: Focusing on the Approval Process for the Gateway Rail Tunnel Project.”

“Billions for Red Tape” shows that improved permitting for Gateway—a $24 billion infrastructure plan to alleviate a critical bottleneck on the Northeast Corridor—would save taxpayers billions and avoid significant environmental harm. It proposes approval mechanisms to reduce the cost and enhance the environmental benefits of the project.

Click here to access the Right of Way cover story; click here to access the full report; and click here to access the accompanying press release.

The report supplements an earlier Common Good report released in September 2015: “Two Years, Not Ten Years: Redesigning Infrastructure Approvals.”

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