Public Works, Public Wealth
November 1, 2005
America’s infrastructure policy is at a crossroads, caught between rising demands and outdated programs to address them. Airports, highways, ports, and harbors are severely congested. Drinking water and wastewater facilities, bridges, dams and school buildings are in poor condition. The cost of these failures is great: time is lost to delay, commerce is impeded, business productivity is compromised, and lives are threatened. Yet federal investment in public infrastructure has decreased steadily as a share of both the economy and federal spending over the past two decades. The risk of under investment is only part of the equation. Of equal or greater concern is the prospect that the investments we make are not the right ones. Our nation’s infrastructure policy favors new construction even when maintenance, renovation, and improved management offer better responses to the problem. Infrastructure policy favors politics over sound investment principles. And as our programs fail to change in response to new realities, additional spending will be progressively less able to solve our infrastructure problems.
This report outlines the considerations involved in rethinking infrastructure policy--the types of infrastructure needed, the technology for providing it, and the sophistication of the various actors involved. It makes a case for folding public school buildings into the national infrastructure policy framework. Finally, the report presents a plan to restructure the federal role in infrastructure provision that would improve returns on public investment and strengthen America’s economic foundations for the twenty-first century.
Everett Ehrlich is executive director of the CSIS Commission on Public Infrastructure. Previously, he served as under secretary of commerce for economics affairs, senior vice president and director of research for the Committee for Economic Development, and associate director of the Congressional Budget Office. Benjamin Landy is project coordinator and research assistant for the CSIS Commission on Public Infrastructure.