Rich Cooper

Feb 2, 2009

Last week, the ASCE (American Society of Civil Engineers) released their report card on America’s infrastructure. We got a big fat D.

Years of neglect, inattention, over use, lack of resources and more have left us sailing along in a leaky boat with a semi-operable engine in stormy economic seas.

This isn’t the first lousy report card our nation’s infrastructure has received from ASCE. In fact, it seems to be the latest grade in a consistent pattern of underachievement.

In 2005, ASCE’s Infrastructure Report Card gave us a D.

In 2001, we got a D+ and in 1998, we received another D as well.

If I had continually come home from school with a lousy report card without ever showing signs of effort or improvement, life at the Cooper home would have been a very uncomfortable experience. Besides having my parents ‘ground me for life,’ I would have been subjected to ‘fun’ afternoons with tutors and ‘special’ time practicing for pop quizzes to demonstrate some type of academic progress. Had I continued to bomb my course work, I suspect my parents would have imposed other ‘corrective measures’ to address my poor performance.

Not so in Washington. We seem to be playing the same old game when it comes to reinforcing bad behavior – especially when it comes to reinvesting in the nation’s infrastructure.

This is what is so bewildering about the current infrastructure reinvestment debate.

Because of the admirable efforts of ASCE, we have a pretty good understanding of the weaknesses and challenges our nation has in a multitude of infrastructure areas.

Additionally, you can travel to just about any community in American and see firsthand the poor and overburdened conditions of our roads, bridges, schools, power structures, and utilities.

We also know that if we want to remain the world’s leading economy, we have to address this incredible national challenge.

While we may know all of these things, we continue to provide no analysis or corrective behavior to improve this situation whatsoever. Instead, we are resorting to the same old systems, processes, mechanisms and behaviors when it comes to addressing our infrastructure needs.

It would seem to me that if we use the ASCE Report Cards as our baseline grade, it’s pretty apparent that the systems, processes, mechanisms and behaviors we’ve been using to address our nation’s infrastructure are not working too well. If anything, they seem to keep us marching in place, going absolutely nowhere, throwing billions of dollars into the wind while the whole infrastructure house falls down around us.

When you reflect on this situation, I’m wondering when it is appropriate to use the word, “stupid” to describe this habitual and on-going behavior.

Responsible parents would never allow their children to continue to fail without taking some type of corrective action to improve their performance; shouldn’t we be doing the same when it comes to the nation’s infrastructure?

It’s great that lots of people are talking today about the importance of our nation’s infrastructure and its needs. Such conversations are rewarding and insightful but it is beyond comprehension that no one is talking strategically about infrastructure investment priorities; how risk and resilience factors should be considered as part of these decisions; or how we are ultimately going to pay for all of this (other than continual deficit spending).

Instead, we find ourselves as a nation falling back into the same old comfortable behaviors and processes that we’ve been using for years, if not decades, when it comes to these investment decisions.

And you wonder why our infrastructure grade never improves?

Such behavior is not as much ‘stupid’ as it is ‘destructive.’

Infrastructure reinvestment needs to be a priority and must happen for all of the reasons the President and the Congress have elaborated on in their public discourses on the subject. However, such reinvestment should not occur if we continue to engage the same old means that have left with us with grades of D, after D, after D and infrastructures that continue to fail, fall apart or unable to address our needs.

It would seem to me, judging by the grades presented by ASCE, that our efforts to revitalize the nation’s aging infrastructure are failing. Instead of trying the same thing over and over again and hoping for a new result, how about actually adopting a new approach?

The existing approaches appear to be taking us nowhere fast…

This piece was originally posted on Security Debrief.


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