Moving from rhetoric to action is challenging at the best of times for political leaders, but at times of severe budget constraints and looming contested elections the focus has to be on implementation and coordination, not piecemeal or reactionary tinkering.
That’s the message from the leaders of major consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton, which is pushing ahead with eight principles for getting much-needed infrastructure investments from conception to action.
‘Fixing what we have is not the solution,” Booz Allen Executive Vice President Mark Gerencser told Breaking Energy in a discussion following the 2012 State of the Union address by President Obama.
“There is consensus across the political spectrum that infrastructure is critical to economic development, job creation, national security and competitiveness,” Gerencser said in announcing the consulting firm’s eight infrastructure principles. “But a lack of harmony in the political process is limiting our ability to accomplish the big things that are required to rebuild America’s infrastructure.”
Gerencser and Booz Allen Global Energy Practice Leader Gary Rahl agreed that the Obama speech fell short of a ringing call for rebuilding, but said several of the President’s ideas were compelling.
An Executive Order to reduce red tape and reorganize balkanized and illogical departmental divisions might make permitting and financing easier while eliminating bureaucratic overlap, and plans to use the power of the US military budget to encourage the development of commercial-scale renewable fuels and electric micro-grids could also help prompt more wide-spread efforts.
“The devil really is in the details,” Rahl said. “It can’t simply be a matter of the federal government buying large projects.”
The structuring of partnerships with private companies and the way the projects themselves are implemented will be key to the success of the programs Obama laid out. “It is quite possible to just buy expensive power,” Rahl said, rather than make progress on innovating new solutions – “good ideas don’t implement themselves,” he pointed out.
The government’s role needs to be active and engaged but also needs to leverage the financial wherewithal and expertise of business, Gerencser said. “Variable policy is a major risk, and business is rationally avoiding instability” by holding back on investments, he said. Restructuring public-private partnerships to account for changing technologies, regional planning considerations and shifting priorities is a key tool for the government to use in infrastructure moving ahead.
As the details are hammered out, the pair of executives say that their themes are a roadmap for helping bureaucracies in both business and government move from rhetoric and big ideas to actions.
The eight themes include:
- Create a shared and comprehensive national vision
- Think innovation, not shovels
- Take the long and integrated view
- Rationalize the bureaucracy and its policies
- We cannot afford to buy our way out
- Plan regionally and think holistically
- Make resilience a forethought – not an afterthought
- Build for the next century, not the last one