FMI recently was honored with a surprise guest speaker at its monthly staff meeting in Raleigh. Congressman Heath Shuler, 11th District, N.C., was asked to say a few words about what is going on in Congress these days, such as the passing of the highway trust fund bill, aka H.R. 4348, the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21). Readers likely know by now that, after a long squabble in Congress, MAP-21 replaced the SAFETEA-LU transportation bill. It provides about $100 billion for federal highway programs, which is great news for the construction industry and for jobs. However, the celebration will be short lived as it expires in just two years. This may save some stalled, vital projects. However, with the political atmosphere in flux, there is no sense as to whether MAP-21 will be renewed enough times to make a lasting impact. Congressman Shuler’s short presentation turned into a discussion lasting nearly an hour, not because one expects politicians to be long-winded, but because of the discussion that ensued between the Congressman and FMI’s consulting staff.
If there had been time on the morning’s agenda, the discussion could have gone on for at least another hour. Among the ideas brought up by Congressman Shuler was the fact that, “Investment in infrastructure is returned six-fold in economic improvement from job creation to improved flow of goods.” If this is so, to paraphrase the Congressman, why is there not agreement on both sides of the aisle that we should do more to fund such investments in infrastructure? There is “no long-range plan for infrastructure in America. Instead we see only short-term fixes or a ‘kick the can down the road’ mentality.” Shuler expressed what seems to be a novel idea in the current state of politics; he thinks of himself as working for the benefit of America, not the benefit of either political party. Like the recent passing of the highway bill, most issues in Congress seem to find only short-term solutions often crafted to assure reelection and favor a narrow constituency of the party’s “base,” not the broader and longer-range considerations of what is best for the country.
What can we do about these problems? Is it even possible to create a long-term plan for such large issues as infrastructure construction for our nation? Should the government even be involved in planning infrastructure construction? These are just a few questions that arise out of an informal discussion of industry concerns. Ultimately, whose responsibility is it to do something about our failing infrastructure, and if so what? It is FMI’s purpose to “Build a great future for the construction industry and its leading organizations.” We strive toward this goal every day in all the ways that we work with our clients and the industry, but can we really change the industry or the way that congress works? Alone, we cannot, but we can help to broaden and deepen the discussion. Meantime, we work with our clients every day to help them achieve their goals for their own firms.