Op-ed: Mark Gerencser, Gen. Jones, Sen. Dorgan Tackle U.S. ‘Infrastructure Crisis’

Mark Gerencser, Booz Allen Hamilton

For the fall issue of GovCon Exec Magazine, Mark Gerencser, managing partner for Booz Allen Hamilton’s global commercial business, spoke at length with editor Gerry Simone about the potential for government, industry and civil partnership to help address the U.S.’ most pressing infrastructure needs.

The piece was a forward-looking breakout where Gerencser made clear where the rubber hit the road in the U.S.’ quest to fuel a next-generation economy – and how the GovCon industry was poised to drive the transformation.

On Thursday, Gerencser along with retired U.S. Marine Corps General Jim Jones and former North Dakota Senator Byron Dorgan released an op-ed in Politico that expanded upon the vision he set forth with GovConExec. For a break down of the op-ed, continue reading below.

For more of GovCon Exec’s infrastructure coverage, check out the full piece here.

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Toward the end of a Thursday op-ed for Politico, Gerencser, Jones and Dorgan make a sensible plea for a forward-thinking approach to domestic infrastructure development.

“Innovation propelled our country during the past century… today, we can’t settle for repairing last century’s systems.”

Although simple in premise, the trio’s op-ed reveals a complicated combination of entrenched political systems, competing interests and untapped resources threatens to perpetuate the U.S.’ enormous investment in legacy infrastructure.

The consequences of inaction on this front are dire, the authors argue, as developing economies race ahead of the U.S. to build the foundations upon which the future global economy will run.

While the U.S. remains fixated on the highways and fuel of the “Mad Men” era, China, India, Brazil and others are building upon fuel efficiency and mass transit to accommodate booming populations and cities.

Budding competitors are already lining up for a future that “abounds with opportunity and competitive challenges” by investing in a “mammoth wave” of infrastructure development.

The U.S. continues to focus on rebuilding bridges and paving roads.

When one adds increased U.S. national security risks to inaction’s potential impact on future U.S. industries and jobs, the authors say the U.S.’ infrastructure becomes nothing less than a crisis in motion.

For those reasons, they argue it is time to “reimagine” infrastructure and replace short-term stopgaps with long-term strategic planning.

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A recurring theme in the authors’ proposal on how to spur reimagination is improving communication, cooperation and incentive structures.

At the government level, it is time to plan regionally, but think holistically, they say.

Navigating the divisions between the federal, state and local governments is a major hurdle standing in the way of implementing complimentary infrastructure projects.

Rather than complicate production, federal support should flow down to local and state governments and be supported by coherent and consistent regulations, laws and policies.

Governments can start the process by developing a “shared and comprehensive national vision” that unites the governments behind a forward-looking plan on infrastructure development.

An ultimately successful framework would contain built-in goals, timelines and metrics to measure performance, while remaining flexible to changing future needs.

Its a daunting task, but the lack of a system to coordinate and implement compatible infrastructure projects has proliferated disjointed one-off projects and major cities with unconnected transportation and energy systems, the authors say.

For example, the authors indicate a potential way to reduce congestion at Chicago’s O’Hare International airport would be to connect the Chicago metropolitan area with the Milwaukee metro area via railway.

The problem is no mechanism for developing the joint regional plan exists.

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The issue of standalone market participants looms large in the domestic infrastructure landscape beyond inter-government cooperation.

First, there are users of infrastructure, who benefit most from development, but have the least say in infrastructure design.

Then, there is the weak incentive to shoulder the burden and risk of financing infrastructure projects as “those who pay for it often realize the least benefits.”

In response to such market misalignments, the authors say government can play a catalytic role in freeing up investment capital for infrastructure.

Some possible suggestions include:

  • Narrowing the tax differential between municipal and private-sector finance
  • Creating leverage mechanisms, like a national infrastructure bank
  • Expanding innovative financing programs with direct loans, loan guarantees and standby lines of credit

Ultimately, the authors say a better mechanism for cooperation between the public and private sectors will go a long way towards motivating market participants to find forward-looking solutions to the U.S. infrastructure crisis.

And placing final users at the center of all infrastructure planning could provide real benefits as U.S. demographics continue to change: 85 percent of the population now lives on 25 percent of the available land.

“These principles, if followed, hold the promise of turning the U.S. infrastructure crisis into an opportunity to re-imagine what the nation could –and should – look like a century from now.”

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