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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.Comment ›
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.Comment ›
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."Comment ›
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.Comment ›
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.Comment ›
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.Comment ›
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:
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.
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.
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.
- 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
Stanford Global Projects Center
Terra Strong, Program Manager
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 http://cddrl.fsi.stanford.edu
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 https://gpc.stanford.edu
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 http://www.commongood.org
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.Comment ›
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.Comment ›
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.
The report supplements an earlier Common Good report released in September 2015: “Two Years, Not Ten Years: Redesigning Infrastructure Approvals.”Comment ›