President Trump closed out his administration’s Infrastructure Week with a speech at the Department of Transportation that had all the elements of a solid event: Great speech-writing, a bi-partisan issue in the need to fix crumbling infrastructure around the USA, and effective visuals when the president held up thick binders of documents that builders generate — at $24,000 per page in one case, just to get the go-ahead to build.
One flowchart on display at the event was billed as a simplified version of highway permitting processes, which entails 16 different approvals involving 10 different federal agencies being governed by 26 different statutes.
The Trump Administration says it has allocated $200 billion in the president’s budget as part of a $1 trillion investment plan to rebuild infrastructure.
Streamlining permitting is a big part of that agenda, a point made with quite a thud during this clip, which says it all regarding the president’s plan to streamline the permitting process from an average of 10 years to two:
Big Trends with Big Data
One big piece of news from the event, though it likely won’t get much coverage or play in mainstream media outlets, is the announcement of an online dashboard system that will allow all stakeholders in the permitting process “to easily track major projects through every stage of the approval process,” as the president said during his remarks.
This is a significant development. Dashboards have been a big trend in corporate America for the past decade, and in more governments, to provide stakeholders quick views of key data points in one portal view.
This kind of stuff used to require database wonks to hand-code specific data feeds and then manually update them. Not anymore. Plenty of data visualization platforms and software packages exist these days that can pipe in disparate data sources to one common view (our favorite is Tableau Software). For a federal government notorious for its gazillion data silos, none of them “talking to each other,” in IT parlance, this represents a big step forward in government innovation of IT systems and responsiveness to the public.
The goal, the president continued, is to create one point of contact to deliver a decision on projects, and to deliver that decision quickly, whether it’s a road, a highway, a bridge, a dam, and “get rid of the redundancy and duplication that wastes your time and money.”
Some municipalities are doing well by exposing publicly available data about projects on websites, and getting great responses from their constituents. For example, New York City has been posting building-permit updates from the Department of Buildings as part of its OpenData portal, which you can view here. (This is largely a legacy of Mayor Mike Bloomberg, he of the Bloomberg terminal that dominates most traders’ desks in the finance world, and who pushed to modernize the city’s use of data.)
As part of the president’s vision of streamlining the federal permitting process, his team is setting up a new council that will oversee the dashboard portal and “make sure every federal agency that is consistency delaying projects by missing deadlines will face penalties.”
They Mean It
The Infrastructure Week events, for those of you who might have been consuming other news this week, included a speech in Ohio where the president laid out his vision for American infrastructure and his plans to modernize inland waterways, which are plagued by aging systems in need of costly upgrades. The Department of the Interior also weighed in.
Vice President Mike Pence also played a role in the week’s events, telling a luncheon summit that “America only has the 12th best infrastructure in the world. Think about that for a second. The most powerful economy on Earth by a lot has the 12th-rated infrastructure on the planet. We’re miles behind countries like Japan and Germany, just to name a few.”
Also on the agenda: the president’s support for a plan to privatize the Federal Aviation Administration’s long-delayed efforts to bring the air traffic control system into the 21st Century, which has rare bi-partisan support.
During a meeting with state governors and mayors this week, addressing how the states can attract more private investment and alternative financing ideas to get projects off the ground, President Trump highlighted the innovation that many states are pioneering, such as Florida’s I-4 ultimate project.
“Because of their innovation approach and because of the way they went about getting it and getting the approvals, the project is anticipated to be completed 17 years earlier than it would have through more traditional funding methods. These are the kind of projects we want to see all across the country.”
In a week of all kinds of news about the administration and big political news around the globe after the elections in the U.K. clobbered Prime Minister Teresa May’s coalition (The Economist wins best headline: Polling in the Deep), June 6-10th should be noted for what it represents to government reformers and builders, no matter their political stripe: The Builder-in-Chief means what he says. This was a big week for the president to follow-up on his promise to rebuild the country.