Dennis D. McDonald ( consults from Alexandria Virginia. His services include writing & research, proposal development, and project management.

When It Comes to Open Data for Infrastructure Spending, Call Me Conservative

When It Comes to Open Data for Infrastructure Spending, Call Me Conservative

By Dennis D McDonald

Republicans, Democrats, and the Trump administration are starting to make public (or have made public for them) plans for "infrastructure" renewal. While it's still too early to know what the eventual plans look like or how they'll be funded, it is not too early to think about the data that will be needed to plan and manage any national infrastructure renewal plan.

As I suggested in How Open and Transparent Should Federal Infrastructure Spending Data Be? there are 4 basic data related questions we need to answer in order to track and report on infrastructure spending:

  1. Who is spending the money?
  2. What is the infrastructure spending being used for?
  3. How is the infrastructure work being performed?
  4. Where is the infrastructure spending actually taking place?

Not addressed here is the why of infrastructure spending. Are we repairing crumbling and potentially dangerous roads and bridges? Are we trying to stimulate the economy and depressed areas? Or both?

Answers to "why?" should drive detail about how we lay out measurable objectives and how we then determine (and report on) whether those objectives are being met. Unfortunately, when you read the back-and-forth comments by so-called liberals and conservatives about this topic of infrastructure spending you tend to hear the same old talking points played over and over again, such as:

  • “Infrastructure spending is just a payoff for local unions.”
  • “Infrastructure spending is just a payoff for wealthy business executives.”
  •  “Infrastructure spending is just another way to hire large numbers of cheap illegals.”
  • “Infrastructure spending goes to major chrome plated projects that benefit the few.”

Reading between the lines of such casually repetitive commentaries you begin to see why infrastructure spending data have to be accessible to the public at all stages of the process. Here are some examples of the tough questions we should be asking:

  • What are the rules for selecting infrastructure projects?
  • How – and by whom -- are those rules being applied?
  • What kinds of jobs are being created?
  • Who's making money when infrastructure work is contracted out?
  • Are data about infrastructure spending being made available to the public in ways the public finds useful?

It’s this last point that explains why I view my opinions about infrastructure spending as being fundamentally conservative. I'm a taxpayer. I want to be sure that my dollars are being spent both wisely and efficiently. In my view that’s an old fashioned “conservative” view; make sure the public is informed, make sure government is honest, engage with all members of the public on an equal footing, etc., etc.

Now, we all know (or at least think we know) of instances where "government" isn't being open and above board about what it's doing in the name of the public. That's why we have Freedom of Information laws and the sometimes contentious relationship between journalists and government employees.

I'm hoping, however, that when it comes to infrastructure spending that the fundamental facts about what is going on will be open and easily accessible to all. Isn’t that something that both the "wingnuts" and the "libtards" can agree on?

Copyright © 2017 by Dennis D. McDonal

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