By Beverly A. Scott, Ph. D., CEO, Beverly Scott Associates, LLC
Our nation’s critical infrastructure is crumbling. New investments in smart, sustainable, resilient infrastructure are desperately needed across the United States – a fact that has been more than well-documented and reported. Notwithstanding, bit by bit, we are losing our American focus on quality; and, with it, our overall standard of living and global competitive position.
At the same time, Americans across the country are experiencing sharp and continued rising inequality, an overall affordability crisis, massive gaps in earnings between top and bottom range wage earners – a disappearing middle class – coupled with persistent gender and race inequities – making us a country of extremes. These are the conditions that underpin the Houston/Marshall Plan for Community Justice, a “self help” national reinvestment Plan modeled after the original Marshall Plan initiated by the United States to rebuild European economies and communities in the aftermath of World War II. “Infrastructure Matters” should be a central cornerstone of this national recovery plan.
The need for urgent action is clear! Simply, continuation along our current path is a prescription for failure – and, insanity. Unfortunately, as local communities continue to experience the breakdown and unreliability of critical lifeline sectors – water and sewer networks, transportation, electricity, communications – one infrastructure failure after another – the public and political will to do so remains on cruise control.
As a public sector executive for over 30 years, I get it. This is not easy; and, there are no silver bullets. Putting our country back on track (no pun intended) requires that we find the collective will and the tools to take a quantum leap forward – beyond smart commentary, never ending policy debate and divisive political squabbles.
I am not a betting woman. But, I am convinced that one part of the puzzle is to borrow a chapter of the “New Deal” playbook; and, “invest in ourselves and our communities.” Make it a point with no apologies – to strategically leverage our future infrastructure investments in the public interest – as a catalyst for American growth and transformation for the 21st century and beyond – jobs creation, economic competitiveness, equitable and shared prosperity, greater resilience and sustainable communities. That is the promise of America – this is who we are; and this is the legacy that we should pass on to future generations of Americans.
This is not pie in the sky. A few quick notes on moving forward. In the U.S., federal public procurement is reported to range between 10-15% of Gross Domestic Product in any given year, with trillions more expended by state and local governments. The magnitude of government outlays for public procurements and grants creates significant opportunities to implement policies that advance wider societal benefits – with emphasis on historically underutilized groups and high needs communities, women, and special target groups like African American men, disconnected youth, our disability community and veterans who have given so much in defense of our country.
Today, this expanded view of investment and cost-benefit, including life cycle costing, and risk assessment is often missing from the overall public procurement process. Not to mention, the staggering cost of continued inaction – at both an individual and collective level. Bottom line, the last time that I looked – the best social program is a good JOB!
To succeed will require strong public interest, support, and the political will to do so. It will also require some new ways of thinking, changing mindsets, policies, practices, and some regulations – supported by good data, pilot programs, sound practice, partnerships (government, business, labor, community and public-interest groups, academia, and philanthropy) – and, thoughtful implementation.
That said, there is significant precedent in the U.S. of linking and leveraging public procurement to achieve national goals – labor laws and standards, nondiscrimination provisions, environmental protection, to highlight a few. And, the U.S. is not alone in examining reform of its public procurement system to advance long-term sustainability, inclusive growth, and equitable outcomes. Internationally, considerable work is underway to professionalize, modernize and streamline the public procurement process; establish international standards for “sustainable public procurement”; and, implement performance monitoring of public procurement systems – while ensuring efficiency, integrity, public accountability and transparency (i.e., future ISO standard 20400).
And, there is growing leadership and momentum – both at the federal level and locally — to do just that. A few examples and links are offered below – and, there are many more.
What can we do? First, with no disrespect intended – stop, just talking about the problems; or, expecting some magical bailout. Yes, national leadership, action and accountability are absolutely critical. At the same time, start at home to get engaged, informed – build partnerships, and coalitions. And, most importantly – take personal action and responsibility to make the investments needed to make a positive difference.
A few examples and links are noted below – and, there are many more.
U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony R. Foxx; USDOT’s “Opportunities Agenda” and ladders of opportunity pilot programs to help communities use innovative ideas and approaches to leverage transportation funds into jobs. (https://www.transportation.gov/opportunity)
PolicyLink’s work with local and national partners to advance policies and strategies to build an equitable economy. All-In-Cities is a new PolicyLink initiative “to empower city officials, community advocates, and other civic leaders with the policy ideas, data, and hands-on assistance they need to advance racial economic inclusion and equitable growth.” (www.allincities.org)
The Brookings Institution, Rethinking Metropolitan America: Including inclusion: A new approach to economic development in Upstate New York (February 4, 2016) – Amy Liu, Vice President and Director of the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program reporting on The CenterStateCorporation for Economic Opportunity (CenterState CEO) in central New York that is pioneering innovative economic efforts around exports, new technologies and workforce development. (www.brookings.edu/about/progs/metro)
Jobs To Move America (JMA), a national coalition of business, community, labor, faith, civil rights, philanthropic, academic and environmental groups founded in Los Angeles that has developed the U.S. Employment Plan (USEP); and, focused its efforts on creating economic opportunities in transportation by transforming the process of public procurement of buses and railcars to incentivize investment in good jobs for U.S. workers and U.S. based factories – with emphasis on including those historically excluded from the manufacturing sector.
USDOT has approved use of the USEP for the procurement of rolling stock for LA METRO, Amtrak, the Chicago Transit Authority, Maryland DOT, the Metropolitan Council of Minneapolis, St Paul, and the California High Speed Rail Authority, to name a few. In December 2015, JMA joined University of Massachusetts Amherst (UMass Amherst) economists to release a first of its kind study, Strengthening U.S. Manufacturing Through Public Procurement Policies. (jobstomovemerica.org; https://www.transportation.gov/fastlane/fast-act-jobs-to-move-america)
The San Francisco Public Utility Commission (SFPUC), a Department of San Francisco City and County is the first public utility in the country to adopt an Environmental Justice Policy (2009) and a Community Benefits Policy (2011)…” to serve as a catalyst for expanding economic inclusion, creating job opportunities, revitalizing low-income neighborhoods and supporting our nation’s climate change priorities…As we make critical investments in our infrastructure, we focus our community benefits on a sustainable future for the people and places that make our region so special.” (sfwater.org)
The Building and Construction Trades Department’s Multi-Craft Core Curriculum Program (MC3), the most widely used pre-apprenticeship curriculum in the Building Trades’ Apprenticeship Readiness Programs, was developed specifically to help underrepresented groups prepare to enter apprenticeship programs. With minorities and women making up more than 75% of the successful graduates of BCT apprenticeship readiness programs, building trades apprenticeship are significantly increasing ladders of opportunities for good, family-supporting jobs for women and people of color who have historically been extremely under-represented in the building trades. (www.bctd.org) The Transportation Learning Center’s work to build a Transit Core Competencies Curriculum (TC3) mirrors this initiative in the transportation sector. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
The Aspen Institute, Economic Opportunities Program has three major initiatives: the Workforce Strategies Initiative, Skills for America’s Futures; and FIELD – all focused on driving change to help low-and moderate-income Americans succeed in today’s economy.
Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, OECD, Sustainable Procurement for Sustainable and Inclusive Growth: Enabling Reform through Evidence and Peer Reviews (www.oecd.org/gov/ethics/procurement)