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Philip Howard in the Daily Beast: Why Your Bridge Will Never Be Fixed

Philip Howard takes to the Daily Beast to explain why, even with adequate funding, infrastructure projects in America won’t proceed. An excerpt:

Red tape this dense is a problem of governing philosophy, not organizational efficiency. Modern government is organized to avoid giving anyone authority to make a decision. Balkanizing decisions among multiple departments is how we try to make sure every interest is satisfied. A typical project requires approval from a dozen or more government departments, at federal, state, and local levels. Each department considers itself the keeper of the flame, and, like a special interest, clings to its concerns notwithstanding countervailing public interest elsewhere. Applicants often find themselves caught in regulatory cross-fire, as, say, the Corps of Engineers battles against the EPA. Getting an infrastructure permit requires a process akin to negotiating an international treaty.

Efforts to accelerate approvals ignore the underlying defect: that multiple decision-makers almost always cause paralysis. Recent streamlining initiatives include a ‘permitting dashboard’ and new inter-agency committees charged to work things out. The 2012 ‘Moving Ahead for Progress’ transportation law included 30 pages of new procedures designed to accelerate approval. Therein lies the problem: All it accomplished was adding more mandatory meetings. A project gets bogged down as soon as there’s a disagreement. ‘Nothing is impossible,’ as one pundit put it, ‘until it’s sent to a committee.’

Philip goes on to offer three solutions to improve the approval process, including empowering environmental officials to decide when there’s been enough environmental review, creating a “one stop shop” for permitting, and increasing flexibility in procurement. Click here to read the full essay.