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Breaking the impasse on infrastructure funding

Updated: Jun 5, 2020


D&A Senior Advisor Joe Tyler recently moderated a session at the American Council of Engineering Companies’ annual convention.

Recently, The American Council of Engineering Companies asked me to moderate a discussion at its annual convention entitled “Federal Markets Session: USACE (Civilian) and Others – Priorities and Funding.”

Our two panelists were Eric Halpin, Special Assistant for Dam and Levee Safety at the Army Corps of Engineers and David Palumbo, Deputy Commissioner for Operations at the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. Our discussion was both spirited and deeply instructional.  It was a privilege to be on the dais with these two remarkable public servants.

The bottom line from our discussion is that the U.S. is simply not investing sufficiently to meet its infrastructure needs.  An effective manner to gain interest for providing funding is to link economic impacts to infrastructure failure.  For example, placing a load limit on bridges due to structural deficiencies adversely impacts the quantity of local economy deliveries thereby increasing owners delivery and operation costs.

Halpin and Palumbo both emphasized that their agencies’ experience shows it is essential to be transparent in addressing public safety issues in the context of the economic impacts of inadequate investment as in the above example of alleviating pressure on owner/constituent operating costs.  Earlier in the program, former heads of the Departments of Transportation in Florida, Pennsylvania and Washington State expressed similar views.  In my opinion, it is always effective to be transparent and place funding needs in a simplistic cost–benefit perspective that allows funding entities to understand the investment’s positive economic impact.

A second area of agreement involved the lack of technical expertise serving both government and private industry. Agencies, including State DOTs, are utilizing more external engineering support and are finding industry lacking in capacity and technical expertise to augment agency needs.  In my opinion, STEM education is essential in meeting this national deficiency in technical expertise.  As the nation’s infrastructure continues to deteriorate, more and more technical experts will be necessary to develop innovative solutions to these needs.

ACEC has a deservedly excellent reputation in the engineering community and its 2016 convention attracted industry leaders from both government and private sector.

One of the most important tasks for the industry this year is to better educate those making funding decisions affecting our infrastructure so that they better understand the linkage between lack of funding and economic harm. This, along with improved technical expertise, is severely needed.

Joe Tyler Senior Advisor

A member of the Dawson team since 2014, Joe was Deputy and Director, Military Programs for the Army Corps of Engineers. He was the highest-ranking civilian (SES-2) in the USACE Military Mission Area and led reforms that improved quality and productivity.


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