Government Unlearning How to Build Big Projects

Very interesting article by Michael Barone in today’s Washington Examiner hit the nail on the head: “Big Government Forgets How to Build Big Projects.”

I am also familiar with this small project on the George Washington Parkway (near Washington DC) called the Humpback Bridge. The construction started in January 2008 and was to have been finished by February 2010. Now it is expected to be completed by February 2011. (Some of us even have our doubts it will be finished by then.)

A couple of facts in the article struck me.

“The Pentagon was built in 18 months. From the groundbreaking on Sept. 11 (yes!), 1941, it took only 15 months for Gen. George Marshall and Secretary of War Henry Stimson to move in.

Gen. Brehon Somervell was handpicked by Marshall to supervise the project because, as head of the Works Progress Administration (a work-relief agency in New York City,) he had built LaGuardia Airport from start to finish in 25 months. Try building an airport in 25 months today.” (I totally agree.)

Those metrics tell us something about how government worked then and how it works now. It’s taking more than twice as much time to reconstruct a small bridge than it took to build the world’s largest office building more than half a century ago. ” (Comment, admittedly the Pentagon construction was 24/7/365 and not clearing out for rush hour traffic but still…)

Today government takes longer to do things and for some good reasons such as environmental clearances. However, given the need to worry about lawsuits, permits, and other incrustations (Barone’s word) of federal procurement policy many projects are delayed unnecessarily.

Mr. Barone’s parting comment is apt:

“Big government has become a big, waddling, sluggish beast, ever ready to boss you around, but not able to perform useful functions at anything but a plodding pace. It needs to be slimmed down and streamlined, so it can get useful things done fast.”

Shirley Ybarra is a former senior transportation policy analyst at Reason Foundation, a nonprofit think tank advancing free minds and free markets.

Ms. Ybarra served as Secretary of Transportation for the Commonwealth of Virginia from 1998 to 2002, overseeing a budget of $3.2 billion and a staff of 13,000 people. Between 1994 and 1998, Ybarra was Virginia's Deputy Secretary of Transportation.

Ybarra also served as senior policy advisor and special assistant for policy for U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elizabeth Dole from 1983 to 1987. In that role, Ybarra managed the transfer and privatization of Dulles and National Airports to the Washington Metropolitan Airport Authority.

Ybarra authored Virginia's Public-Private Transportation Act of 1995, considered the model public-private partnership legislation in the United States.

In 2001, Ybarra received the American Road and Transportation Builders Association's "Public-Private Ventures Entrepreneur of the Year Award" for her leadership in designing innovative infrastructure financing.

She holds a Master's degree in Economics and a Bachelor's degree in Business Administration from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln.