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.