Stimulating U.S. Infrastructure Jobs - An Opinion

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In today’s news there’s talk of a new federal government jobs stimulation program, with a cost between $75 billion and $125 billion. This new jobs program would be funded in theory from recaptured amounts totaling nearly $200 billion, originally programmed under the 2008 Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP).

Approximately $50 billion of the new jobs program would be targeted for U.S. infrastructure projects, i.e., roads, bridges, and water projects. As’s U.S. infrastructure watchdog, this particular aspect of the news caught my attention Tuesday.

I understand that the U.S. unemployment rate is hovering around 10%, and actually I have some very current personal experience with this reality. At this time last year, I was happily flying for a regional airline out of Phoenix into all kinds of fun destinations….unaware that I would be laid-off in 2009. I enjoy my new position at, but I want to put my views on any jobs bills in perspective. Specifically, I know what it’s like to be laid-off. Or, as Bill Clinton used to say, “I feel your pain.”

However, I really hope that any jobs programs, particularly at the $50 billion dollar level, that are targeted for “shovel-ready” infrastructure projects have some scrutiny beyond “the projects that will create the most jobs the quickest.” I hope that “shovel ready” doesn’t actually mean “shovel completed” two years ago, so let’s regurgitate that same well-known scope of work for another round of pavement resurfacing, or what have you. Let me say, I have no hard evidence (nor have I sought any out, thus far) to evaluate the true nature of these proposed new infrastructure projects’ scopes. After all, this is current breaking news. I simply want to advertise that such an understanding will be on my radar screen (and hopefully other folks’ radar screens) as potential spending bills along these lines are unveiled in the future.

I believe the Obama administration has made some loose comparisons of their current programs to FDR’s New Deal programs of the 1930’s. At least, the media has made those comparisons on behalf of the Obama administration. One Tuesday evening, one news outlet proposed that up to 25% of U.S. families were supported by wages from New Deal jobs programs during the Great Depression era.

But, from what I know of history, the “alphabet” programs enacted by FDR, i.e., the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), etc., resulted in the creation of not only jobs, but also tangible, practical new investments in U.S. infrastructure. For example, the TVA projects resulted in tremendous new installations of electric transmission lines and hydro-electric power generators for a huge portion of our country. It is not hard to appreciate how these physical systems and the direct and broad economic enhancements they offered helped to pull our country out of a depression, while also creating jobs.

I hope that any Obama infrastructure jobs programs consider the Return on Investment (ROI) of any public funds applied, or at least rank required projects based on safety concerns, worst-first, or some other logical approach. My concern is that political expediency, parochialism, or an all-consuming focus on lowering unemployment numbers for the 2010 election cycle will drive $50 billion worth of poor infrastructure funding decisions.

With so many of our tax dollars now going overseas to service our $12 trillion U.S. debt, what we don’t need to do is buy additional “empty dollar” projects with no practical long-term return….even though they might put folks back to work quickly, seal coating and re-striping pavements and repainting bridges.

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Andrew Kimos

Andrew Kimos completed the civil engineering programs at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy (B.S. 1987) and the University of Illinois (M.S. 1992) and is a registered Professional Engineer in the state of Wisconsin. He served as a design engineer, construction project manager, facilities engineer, and executive leader in the Coast Guard for over 20 years. He worked as a regional airline pilot in the western U.S. before joining the team as Operations Channel Producer.

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