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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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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 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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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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December 14 Forum: Drain the Swamp? Regulatory Reform Under President Trump

UPDATE: Click on the images below to watch video of the event. Selected clips will be made available in the coming days.

Panel 1: Getting Moving on Infrastructure

Panel 2: Rethinking Executive Authority and Congressional Oversight

Panel 3: Re-Imagining Regulatory Reform

Products distributed at and coming out of the event include:

  • Forum agenda and biographies
  • Philip Howard’s December 14 op-ed in the Washington Post on what President Trump could do to finally tame the red tape monster
  • An animated video—titled “Draining the Swamp”—on the benefits of regulation by results
  • Common Good’s draft legislation to implement the proposals from our September 2015 “Two Years, Not Ten Years” infrastructure report
  • Speaker Gingrich discussing the forum on his December 14 appearance on FOX News (begins at the 4:35 mark)


On December 14, Common Good and Covington & Burling LLP will hold a morning forum discussing regulatory reform in the Trump administration.

The event will have three panels: 1) getting moving on infrastructure; 2) re-imagining regulatory reform; and 3) rethinking executive authority and congressional oversight.

Participants include (list in formation):

Oren Cass, Manhattan Institute
Christopher DeMuth, Hudson Institute
Susan E. Dudley, George Washington University
E. Donald Elliott, Covington & Burling; Yale Law School
Daniel M. Flores, Chief Counsel, House Subcomm. on Reg. Reform
William A. Galston, Brookings Institution
Hon. Newt Gingrich
Jason Grumet, Bipartisan Policy Center
Frederick M. Hess, American Enterprise Institute
Philip K. Howard, Common Good
Richard G. Kidd IV, Federal Permitting Improvement Steering Council
Brink Lindsey, Cato Institute
Will Marshall, Progressive Policy Institute
Diana C. Mendes, HNTB Corporation
Paul Noe, American Forest & Paper Association
Michael Schmidt, former economic policy advisor to Hillary Clinton
David Schoenbrod, New York Law School
John Veroneau, Covington & Burling
Philip A. Wallach, Brookings Institution

Event details:
Title:   Drain the Swamp? Regulatory Reform Under President Trump

When:   Wednesday, December 14, 2016; 9:00 AM to 12:30 PM, with informal lunch after; 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 of Common Good at Please contact Ruth with any questions as well. All attendees must register before the day of the event.

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Philip Howard in the Washington Post: How President Trump Could Successfully Cut Red Tape

Here's Philip Howard's lead op-ed in the Washington Post on what's needed to finally tame the red tape monster.

Click the picture below to watch an animated video Common Good created to accompany Howard’s op-ed:

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Fortune Magazine Cover Story on Red Tape Features Philip Howard, Common Good

The cover story of this week’s Fortune magazine—“The Red Tape Conundrum” by Brian O'Keefe—highlights the work of Philip Howard and Common Good. The article’s sub-heading reflects the substantive connection to Common Good: How the wrong kind of regulation is strangling business—and what to do about it.

“It may well be the biggest bogeyman in business—bigger, perhaps, than even taxes: We’re talking, of course, about red tape,” the article begins. “The idea that burdensome and overly complicated government regulation is strangling growth is almost as old as commerce itself. But right now the hue and cry from the business community is louder than at just about any time in recent memory… In a recent survey by Deloitte, North American chief financial officers named new, burdensome regulation as the No. 2 threat to their business, behind only the possibility of a recession.”

The article then explores key questions: How can we be sure that our regulatory framework promotes innovation and fosters growth while at the same time protecting workers and consumers? Can we fix the current system or do we need to start over? How much is business at fault for the very excesses that companies themselves bemoan? And, finally, is there anything anybody can do to stop it?

“The rulemaking machinery—just like the law-making system—is geared toward pushing out new regulations, not removing them,” continues the article. “‘I kind of think of the regulatory issue as people basically saying in their own varying ways, Who’s in charge here?’ says (Michael) Mandel (chief economic strategist at the Progressive Policy Institute).”

“Philip K. Howard has spent more than two decades waging a campaign against red tape,” the article continues. “… he has written four books assailing over-legalization and founded a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization called Common Good to advocate reform—enlisting in his projects retired politicians from both the left and the right, including former senators Bill Bradley and Alan Simpson and former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels… Howard’s belief is that our laws have gotten too precise for such a complex world and that our attempts to dictate every aspect of human behavior through rulemaking are only bogging us down. The system, he argues, is unadaptable. Similar to Mandel, Howard believes that too many different authorities means that nobody is in charge… In Howard’s mind, it’s time to go to a clean sheet of paper and rethink our entire approach… ‘You can’t reform this system,’ says Howard. ‘You have to rewrite it. That’s the lesson of history.’”

“(Matt) Harris (managing director at Bain Capital Ventures) echoes Philip K. Howard in suggesting that we may need a more radical approach. The best way to respond to our increasingly complex world is to make our rules simpler, he suggests, not more detailed. Regulations are now written in an attempt to legislate every imaginable action by individuals on every imaginable subject—an impossible task. ‘I think the whole thing needs to be rethought and boiled back to more of a principles-based set of detailed prescriptions on how everything can work,’ says Harris.”

From beginning to end, the cover story reverberates with Common Good’s philosophy about and solutions to this critical issue and underscores the necessity of our new campaign, joined by Sen. Bradley and Gov. Daniels among others, to overhaul government.

Click here to read the full Fortune piece.

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Common Good to Help Illinois Slash Red Tape

UPDATE: The News-Gazette has written an editorial in support of Illinois’ red tape initiative. An excerpt:

To demonstrate the seriousness of his commitment, Gov. Rauner brought lawyer and author Philip Howard to the news conference announcing this initiative. Since writing the book "The Death of Common Sense" in the early 1990s, Howard has been a consistent crusader for common sense regulation, which ought not be confused with little or no regulation.

In his original book and since then, Howard presented a persuasive case demonstrating how harmful and suffocating ill-conceived regulations can be to the common good. To the extent this is a problem in Illinois, it must be addressed.

In that context, it's good Gov. Rauner has taken this step. It'll be even better if it's successful.

Click here to read the full editorial.


On October 17, Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner announced an initiative to cut red tape across Illinois' regulatory agencies, quoting Common Good Chair Philip Howard on the urgent necessity. His administration has asked Common Good to act as informal adviser to this effort. The Governor seeks to save Illinoisans at least $250 million in direct license fee costs over the next decade and save taxpayers and business owners at least four million pages in paperwork. The initial report is due next May.

Click here to read a press release on the initiative from the Office of the Governor.

Click here to read Governor Rauner's executive order creating the Illinois Competitiveness Council.

Click here to read a Chicago Daily Herald article about the initiative.

And click the image below to watch Philip Howard’s remarks at the launch event:



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