Feb/Mar 2017 VOL 15 No. 1
Nicholas R. Hild, PhD.
In the last Journal issue, I briefly touched on how the nation's infrastructure is long overdue for a plan to rebuild and update highways, bridges, tunnels, underground piping systems, public buildings and water/wastewater systems all across America. Unfortunately, in the previous decade, whenever infrastructure programs were discussed by a dysfunctional congress, the subject fell on deaf ears; there were always other programs that had higher priorities. This was true, even after serious infrastructure disasters occurred, such as the one in Minnesota, almost ten years ago. On August 1, 2007, the I-5 Mississippi River steel arch bridge known as Bridge 8340, catastrophically failed during rush hour and 13 people were crushed as a result. Within weeks, an anguished call for action by numerous senators and representatives to sponsor funding bills aimed at evaluating and prioritizing our nation's infrastructure were proposed, only to die a quiet death in the hallowed halls of a partisan Congress.
The crying and gnashing of teeth brought only push-back from congressional leaders who used the proposed legislation to create "conditions" that such egregious programs as Obamacare needed to be abolished first, and that immigration reform required action before any infrastructure planning for rebuilding highways or bridges and buildings could even be seriously discussed on the floor of either House. And, besides, the nay-sayers said, "…where will we get the money to even begin addressing the infrastructure when it is estimated that it will take billions of dollars that, at this time, we just don't have!" (Congressional Record, 2007, et al).
But, a decade later, we have new hope: a new President who indicated in his inauguration speech that, "addressing the nation's crumbling infrastructure" will be a major priority on his watch. He followed that up with a two line declaration in his February 28th Joint Address to Congress stating unequivocally that he would ask Congress to "approve a one trillion dollar investment financed with public and private capital…" followed by an emphatic, "Buy America; Hire America!" Details on where that money will come from were not included, but it is clear that the time to address this pressing issue is at hand!
To begin with, we must recognize that no realistic plan to rebuild the infrastructure can be attempted until workers can be hired and properly trained to acquire the skills and capabilities to carry out those highly technical jobs. To accomplish that, multiple training centers must be developed in several different places across the country so the best place to find numerous facilities where that can take place is to look at the Base Realignment and Closure Act of 1990. In the U.S., over the past 25 years, literally hundreds of military installations (bases, forts, camps, labs), have been shuttered or 'realigned' as our economy has forced consolidation of military facilities in order to focus our war training efforts on the middle east.
The closure and 'realignment' of the former, Williams Air Force Base in Mesa, Arizona is a good example of how a shuttered military facility was turned over to the surrounding cities who were tasked with the responsibility of repurposing the facilities. With concerted efforts by numerous cities, county, and State entities, a plan was formulated that revitalized and repurposed the facilities into what is now a thriving education complex with a commercial airport that has the longest runways in the southwestern U.S. serving both commercial and military traffic.
Meanwhile, other shuttered military facilities in such states as Texas, California, Utah, New York, Florida, and many other states around the country, have not fared so well and are pretty much void of activity. And, many of the cities and towns that surround those facilities have a huge unemployment problem begging for industry and construction to come back. In a large number of shuttered installations, properly planning for revitalization could emulate the success of the Williams AFB revitalized facilities, if only a bipartisan effort were to be embraced in Congress.
We are also blessed with a virtual goldmine in qualified and capable men and women coming out of the military every day who need jobs. In addition, we have thousands of homeless men and women, veterans and non-vets alike, who want jobs. And some have past job experiences and skills that would qualify them for at least being in a training program (if one could be developed and funded) to become skilled and productive infrastructure specialists. In addition, there are virtually hundreds of unemployed men and women who have given up looking for jobs, who would likely be first in line to apply for jobs rebuilding the nation's infrastructure.
So, even though it has been very risky taking the President's statements about his priorities to the bank, I am willing to take that risk and in the next issue of the Journal, will offer a few ideas on how we can provide jobs for veterans and unemployed workers all over the U.S. It is a plan that, in the President's style, is "going to be so great…" you will wonder why it hasn't already been done! (his words, not mine). It is a plan that would seem to offend no particular party while providing a solution for (not only) upgrading our public infrastructure across the U.S. but also provide training at now-empty, former military facilities. These are places where trainees can be housed and trained, in part, by rebuilding the former buildings and infrastructure (electrical, mechanical, water/wastewater systems) within the very facilities where they are housed as part of their training. And, from that trillion dollars, those infrastructure trainees can start getting paid while they train and expect to be fully employed rebuilding our nation's infrastructure when they complete the training.
So, to keep from passing the infrastructure problems we have to the next generation, let us take up the President's trillion dollar commitment that he will "rebuild the nation's infrastructure…" and ensure that his intent to… "Buy America, Hire America" will ensure that the trillion dollars will not be a debt to be borne by our children's, children's, children.