Immediately following reports of the Philadelphia Amtrak disaster, a leading Senate Democrat proclaimed that the disaster was caused by Republican budget cuts. The Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives retorted that the tragic accident was caused by a train travelling at high speed over a bridge. With these two statements, we heard a Democrat sounding like Chicken Little. And a Republican sounding like a Microsoft error message—offering a statement that’s technically correct, but has no informational value whatsoever.
Perhaps the Democratic spokesperson was correct in assuming that infrastructure failure contributed to the Amtrak tragedy. The final NTSB verdict on the accident may or may not pinpoint the much larger question of America’s crumbling infrastructure. Nevertheless, thousands of our bridges need serious repair or replacement. Political leaders in both parties share the blame equally, for these long-time disasters-in-waiting,
Speaking on CBS 60 Minutes, politicians and construction experts unanimously agreed that our dangerous infrastructure has been well known for years. But they say “no one knows how to find the billions of dollars needed to fix it.” Really? Isn’t the number one responsibility of our government to protect us from harm? Republicans and Democrats need to realize that they will be responsible for predictable disasters that kill hundreds or thousands of people in the next few years.
President Obama actually made a small effort to help repair Amtrak’s tracks by including $1.3-Billion in his 2009 -2010 stimulus package. Predictably, it was a typical big-government event—throwing money at a generic problem with no plan. Predictably, no one seems to know how the money was used, or if it helped in any way. No one seems to know how the amount was calculated, though most agree that it wasn’t enough.
So the pols and pundits continue to debate, and the infrastructure continues to crumble. Their only agreement seems to be that they don’t know where to get enough money to fix the problem, without raising taxes.
Well politicians, I’d like to suggest a workable solution. You may call my suggestion simplistic, but you will find hundreds of examples in private companies where this approach works every day.
Any successful company would:
1. Begin with a comprehensive plan. Have the plan produced by a professional consulting firm. Give planners everything they need. Give them an opportunity to work without interruption by congressional committees, lobbyists or White House political staffers. But give them only a finite time to finish their work. Six months should do it.
2. Have the Army Corps of Engineers audit the work and certify it.
3. Go out for a pre-bid, and determine the work required, the cost, timeline and priorities.
4. Fund the work by reducing the budget of every federal government department by 1 percent. When departments cry and gnash their teeth at the 1 percent reduction, claiming that automatic salary increases required by union contract require more funding, lower headcount by freezing replacement hiring for people who retire or leave the their positions.
This is simple management 101. Live within a budget. Manage your resources. Don’t complain.
And do your jobs. Make America safe again. We’re depending on you.
My book “The Victory that Wasn’t” offers a fictional alternate history that includes a different kind of US president, and better outcomes for all Americans. It’s available on Amazon at http://amzn.to/1GUL8oX