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Infrastructure:  A Transformative Driver of en Masse Public Policy

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Daniel Bauer
May 21, 2018

Few public administration initiatives wield such influence upon the very fabric of the interaction between business, government and society as infrastructure. Because of this impact which infrastructure possesses (combined with the requirement for human resources and financial resources) oftentimes the bulk of administrative efforts are dedicated to implementation. Therefore, policy implications are relegated to ex post facto status.

Previous articles have focused on innovation, productivity and technological impact. In general, these articles have touched upon the social, political, economic, environmental and financial aspects associated with such undertakings. As part of a continuing series dedicated to infrastructure, this article explores the vast and broad-based impact upon a host of public policy issues emanating directly from Infrastructure. Furthermore, this article explores the direct connection between how personnel can influence policy.

In his 1980 seminal work, “Street-Level Bureaucracyand followed up by his 30th anniversary edition published in 2010, “Street-Level Bureaucracy: Dilemmas of the Individual in Public Services,” Michael Lipsky advanced the notion that public service workers exert influence upon public policies due to their vast discretion, amongst other factors. Five years later (and contextually, seven years after the Great Recession, in a positive economic recovery) MJF Cooper described how street-level bureaucrats (synonymous with front line workers) in public services can make the difference impacting a wide range of public policies. In 2017, writing in the Journal of Public Administration, C. Holland advanced the idea that street-level bureaucracy has evolved and continues to exert influence. Over the course of 38 years, leading academic scholars have researched and communicated about the influence of workers upon policy. Yet, little research explores the connection between infrastructure and public policies en masse.

Statistics certainly back up the claim regarding infrastructure influence upon jobs. According to data available on Infrastructureweek.org (May 14-21), every $1 billion in spending equates to 13,000 jobs. Thus, infrastructure exerts an economic impact which is certainly understandable. Economic impact is tangible. Economic impact of jobs increases productivity. What if infrastructure could expand its impact upon additional policy issues not as easily identifiable?

In many cases, infrastructure is viewed as an outgrowth or a result of public policy. In general, discussions pertaining to matters of public administration invoke efficiency and effectiveness. Wouldn’t it be more efficient to advocate potential public policies en masse as compared to advocating for one? Is infrastructure a result of policy or a driver of policy?

In terms of whether infrastructure is a result of, or a driver of, public policy has consequences. The implications of approaching infrastructure from a public policy perspective are both long lasting and costly. According to the Brookings Institution in a 2016 report such implications become paramount as, “soundness, clarity, and credibility are important for infrastructure investments due to their longevity, public good characteristics, associated externalities” and their “links to governmental policies.”

A starting approach would be listing an infrastructure project (and its relevant affected public policies) according to some standardized framework. The first list would be the categories of infrastructure projects according to the American Society of Civil Engineers (“ASCE”) as displayed in Table 1 below. The second list would be categories of broad- based public policies. Such a category would be qualified by the already generally accepted three types of public policy consisting of 1). Regulatory, 2). Distributive, and 3). Redistributive. These public policy types would be complimented by a general start-out listing of federal policies. Federal policies could be broadly classified initially containing 15 generally accepted public policy areas as indicated in Table 2 below.



Table 2 – Generally Accepted American Federal Public Policies

  1. Agricultural
  2. Climate Change
  3. Health
  4. Foreign Policy
  5. Telecommunications
  6. Space
  7. Science
  8. Economic
  9. Education
  10. Energy
  11. Environmental
  12. Military
  13. National Security
  14. Housing
  15. Emergency Management

Juxtaposing the affected public policy with infrastructure creates an en masse framework. The assessment with which the public policy en masse framework provides may prove to be an insightful lens on efficiency and effectiveness of infrastructure public policies. Such an approach may reveal differences, if any, regarding the original view as to whether the infrastructure project was a result of a policy or a driver of policy.

To a great extent, the ultimate success of infrastructure may be dependent upon measures of efficiency and effectiveness. If so, then listing affected public policy initiatives en masse may be a new tool for public and private governance. In an increasingly performance measurement-oriented environment for both public and private organizations, an appeal towards public policy en masse may serve as a solution to resolving the wicked infrastructure problem and transforming our businesses, governments, nonprofits and society in the meantime.

Author: Daniel G. Bauer is finishing his Doctorate at the School of Public Administration at Florida Atlantic University. Mr. Bauer has an Executive MBA from the College of Business at Florida Atlantic University and a BBA in Finance from University of Toledo College of Business. Daniel has 20+ years of professional experience both domestically and abroad. His research areas focus on finding solutions at the confluence of financing, procurement/supply chain, organizational behavior, sustainability, and social responsibility. Please reach out to him at [email protected]

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