Now that the stimulus package is reality, the big question is, what’s next? Will this program be truly successful, will it put people to work on worthy projects or will it bog down in bureaucracy and be driven by a multitude of negative forces coming from politicians, lobbyists, special interests, trade associations, government at various levels and so on? It is critical that stimulus projects be in the best interests of the country and aligned with the objectives of the program. Our history provides guidelines.
Lessons can be learned, both positive and negative, from the Works Projects Administration (WPA) that existed from 1935 to 1943 and was headed by Harry Hopkins. His focus and strong will made the WPA highly successful. Many of those projects still stand today such as Logan Airport and Camp David. Hopkins and the WPA put together almost 1.5 million projects and created jobs for 8.5 million people.
My advice to President Obama is to find a modern day, Harry Hopkins. Let him select a small group of industry smart people to create a mechanism for filtering projects. No bridges to nowhere. Not one cent spent unless a project can pass a rigorous set of controls, standards and accountability to warrant it worthy of the taxpayer’s money. This group must have the sole authority to select the projects based upon very specific criteria. Of course, the program needs to balance national priorities that cover infrastructure, roads, bridges, rail, airports, parks, environmental and water, places of public assembly, and buildings of all types.
All of us in the construction industry have heard that “well planned projects become well constructed projects”. So “Ready to Go” projects must have a ready-to-go group that up front initiates the best strategy to brainstorm and implement a flawless roadmap for rapid decision making utilizing political, legislative, legal, administrative, technical and, most important, construction expertise. This group cannot be a rubber stamp but must function as a national clearinghouse to best decide which projects are a Go and which are a No Go.
The overused “shovel ready” anachronism is scary. The last thing we need are projects that have finished plans sitting on a shelf that, for perhaps good reasons, were not built in good times but are now being pushed into the pipeline. These evaluations have to be made based on hard facts and selected criteria. We do not want to be Monday morning quarterbacks and read about waste, inefficiency and poor decision making in the future.
We can get it right quickly by acting now and building a pathway for success. Amongst a multitude of benchmarks, here are some obvious things to keep in mind.
Ready to Go
- Do we understand the history of the project?
- Is the need and benefit analysis clearly defined?
- Are the plans complete?
- What is the project schedule, when can work actually begin, when will it be complete?
- How many jobs will be created during construction and operating periods? Costs and Funding
- How accurate is the project budget and how was it derived? Has it been value engineered?
- Do we clearly understand total project costs, hard, soft and operational?
- Clarify all sources of funds.
- How will overruns and change orders be paid? Approvals and Permits
- Are all government approvals in place?
- Is site clear, any encumbrances?
- Any unresolved environmental issues?
- Is the project Green? Is there a LEED rating? Project Management
- What City, State, or Federal agency is responsible?
- What is the public/private involvement?
- Is the project union, prevailing wages?
- What are the WBE/MBE requirements?
- How will the contracts be awarded?
- What is being done to maximize competitiveness?
- Are projects controls in place to insure accuracy and integrity of reporting?
We should not forget the architects and engineers whose work on “shovel ready” projects would be mostly complete. We need to look at some level of recognition of their profession and find opportunities to fast track new design and construction projects as part of the stimulus package. There is plenty of room for creative thinking to enhance this effort.
This should be one of America’s finest hours. We want history to record that, when the chips were down, our industry was up for the challenge and succeeded not just in spending money, but in creating value and building a legacy through professional competence.