ACEC Government Affairs Update for 8-20-21: A Conversation with Former DOT Secretary Slater and T&I Chairman Shuster
Friday Aug 20, 2021
On this week's Government Affairs Update, we are joined by Rodney Slater, former Transportation Secretary under the Clinton Administration and Bill Shuster, former Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Both are now with Washington, DC lobbying firm Squire Patton Boggs. In a wide ranging conversation, we cover the status of infrastructure in Congress, how Secretary Buttigieg is doing, and the what lies ahead for Speaker Pelosi in the House as it returns from the August recess. Transcript: Host: Welcome to the Government Affairs Update from American Council of Engineering Companies. Today, we are very pleased to bring you two experts when it comes to infrastructure to get some interesting perspectives on what's happening right now in Washington, as the bipartisan agreement on infrastructure moves from the Senate over to the House. And I'm joined today by Secretary Rodney Slater and former Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Bill Shuster, both of whom are right now with Squire Patton Boggs in Washington, DC. Secretary Slater was Transportation Department Secretary under President Bill Clinton, and Chairman Shuster, in full disclosure, I used to work with Chairman Shuster while he was Chairman of the T&I Committee. Both bring extensive experience here. And I thank you both for joining us today on the program. Thank you very much for coming on. Secretary Slater: Thank you. Host: I want to start off actually with you Chairman Shuster, because this is, this is kind of an interesting situation we find ourselves in because you spent a significant amount of time and energy as both a member of T&I, and then also as Chairman in pushing a long-term, substantive infrastructure bill beyond just highway authorization. How does it feel seeing this now to be so close to such a generational investment in infrastructure? Chairman Shuster: Well, I think it's good. The bill is, is this large - a trillion dollars, it has some positive, real positive things in it. Like for instance, taking the cap off the PABs, that is one thing they've done. They've done some procurement reforms in it. That's positive. And they've also put in a section, I think it's a hundred million dollars that goes to states and locals to help them analyze a big job, big projects, to see if it makes more sense to use the private sector dollars or to or to stay with traditional government programs. And I think that's a thing because I think they're going to find in many cases it may be a little bit cost higher up front, but when you get the private sector involved over a period of time, it usually drives the cost down because the private sector is very much focused on that. Chairman Shuster: They did some things in there that I wish they would have eased up on. Some of them, they put some regs in there too, and I believe it's going to make it a little more difficult to build roads and bridges because of some of the things that they put back in or increased. But I think overall the fact that it's a bipartisan bill, it's got a pretty big number. It includes some things that haven't been traditional like broadband, which I think is is something that you've got Republican support for. I just wish my good friend, Peter DeFazio, he didn't, he wasn't able to get a bipartisan bill out of the house. And, and I think we've seen over the last 20, 30 years at Secretary Slater knows transportation bills when they come out on a bipartisan way they pass. And that's what we've seen in the Senate. And I think the House will take it up to pass it also. Host: And Secretary Slater, I mean, looking at this bill and how expansive it is and how it goes beyond your traditional roads, bridges and highways and rail systems and the like, you know, what, how, what do you think this means, you know, for the economy? Secretary Slater: Yeah. Well, first of all, Jeff, I'm excited about the bill. I mean, it's taken them a long time to make infrastructure week something other than, you know, a tagline to a conference without the action to go along with it. And so I applaud the President, you know, I know the Vice President was involved, and clearly other members of this team Steve Richetti in particular and the entire Congress for really working hard to pull this off. Now I say the entire Congress. So you know, I'm being cautiously optimistic here, but I think with the momentum built by the action of the Senate, that that's a real possibility and I'm, I'm excited about it. I echo the sentiments that the chairman noted about the differences in this bill as relates to bills in the past. You know, this focus on broadband is just essential in this day in time. Secretary Slater: And especially in this post pandemic era that we're trying to bring online, but I also applaud the leaders for really giving us a bill that has a lot more resilience focus to it, sustainability focused dealing with some of the climate challenges we face and then issues as relates to equity. And so I think that it's a bill that is future oriented future leaning. There are those who might argue that more needs to be done clearly the Democrats and any Republican that might have that belief will have an opportunity to deal with that with the with the other measures that are being put forward. But when it comes to really doing something that is akin to what we've done in the past, and then sort of building back better, I think that this is an answer to that to that challenge, Host: You know, Secretary, you bring up a good point because one of the words has been used a lot is the question of resiliency, and it's just not resiliency against extreme weather, but it's also resiliency for critical infrastructure against external threats. I mean, we're seeing a significant increase in the number of cyber-attacks on computer systems and just critical hard infrastructure. And Chairman you also did a lot of work at T& I on pre-disaster mitigation getting the dollars there and getting things done before the next storm hits before the next tropical storm turns into a hurricane. Do you think the bill does enough? If not, you think that, that, what, what do you think needs to be done in addition, you know, to really what we're looking at here in this bipartisan agreement to really strengthen our infrastructure? Let's start with the Chairman. Chairman Shuster: I think the bill does. A good bit in it to help with resiliency, which, you know, as we were talking about back on the committee of how do we build things before they collapse or hurricane blows them down or whatever the case may be. And at the end of the day, you save money by building these things stronger, being able to withstand a catastrophic weather event. So I think it's positive. I think that there, there needs to be more streamlining to get these things done because I just, I feel that as we did in the past, we run into these hurdles to build these things faster and more effectively. But I think overall, it's, it's a, it's a positive thing. It isn't enough, probably not, but it all depends on what if the hurricanes and the tornado seasons and the earthquake seasons and the fire seasons over the next coming years looks like. But I, I think it's definitely a step in the right direction. Secretary Slater: I agree with that. And Jeff, if I may, I, I think that the members of the Council really have a big role to play here. I mean, this is not something that's across the finish line just yet, but you know, engineering companies that are in the business of giving us the kind of system we need and deserve going forward, actually spending the resources in a proper way. You have a lot to say about this bill about it's, I mean, people may say shortcomings. I just think it's to be applauded the fact that we've gotten it done. There are other things that could have been done. Maybe a bit more here or there that can be done later. We shouldn't allow the perfect to sort of distract us from the, from the good, and this is a good, good start. Secretary Slater: And when it comes to the issue of you know, security and cyber concerns, I mean, we, there's a report in today's paper about the rail system in Iran, possibly being attacked by cyber-attacks. And then just a few months ago some pipeline here in the US and also a ferry system up in the in the Northeast. So we've got these issues to be concerned about, and I'm very pleased, and we're starting to really come to grips with this, both the public and the private sectors to do something about it. Host: Yeah. You raise a good point, especially with the rail system in Iran. I mean as some of our larger firms and actually a lot of our medium-sized firms as well, you know, it's a question of designing the best infrastructure possible. And usually today, that means with the rise of AI and machine learning and the like, intelligent transportation systems, which are networked, which are, you know, have to talk to each other that are open up to potential external threat. So the question is designing it in such a way where it's hardened. Host: And you're correct to the point that it's good, that we're having the conversation that, that this has to be. And also the fact that our firms are designing not for what is today, but what will be 20 years, 30 years down the line, the bridge is going to last a hundred years for the building on a shore that's going to potentially see a sea level you rise or, or erosion from the beach. Host: And those are all things that, of course our members are very concerned about. On the question to pay-fors because this is something which is interesting because when we got the framework, when everybody's wondering, okay, how are we going to pay for this thing? And then through the debate and the amendment debate, you know, they really considered everything from unspent COVID dollars to changing regulations on reporting requirements on cryptocurrencies, but what wasn't really talked about a lot with the user fee and, and, you know, Chairman Shuster, I know, you know, from my experience with you, it was always that simple, very basic argument of saying that if you use the roadways, you should pay into keeping them in good repair, and that user fee consideration. Secretary Slater, you were with the Clinton administration. Of course I was the last time the tax, the gas tax was actually addressed. It seems like we're getting further away from the idea of that user fee model. What do you both see as the future of, of infrastructure funding chairman you know, where do you see things moving? Chairman Shuster: Think it's, first of all, look, we made a mistake when the Republicans controlled the house in 2005, I guess when we passed safety loo we, when we were doing this big tax bill, I, you know, what the leadership and try to convince them, instead of giving the average American a $2,000 cut in their taxes, let's do $1,800 or $1,750 and, and deal with the gas tax because that is a user fee. And again, I think they missed the opportunity not to do the user or the gas tax forever, but to do it for a period of time that they can't implement, implement something that's different. And that would be miles travel tax. And they, they, they put some big, they expanded the pilot program, but I really think they were going to be dealing in five years with how are we going to fund the next transportation bill? Chairman Shuster: And with this bill, they had to back fill the highway trust fund shortage. It's like $120 billion, and that's going to just keep growing. So, you know, and it's, I believe as a conservative that as you pointed out at the beginning, if you're going to use the system, you need to pay into the system. And I'll just say this for rural America, where I come from, the average, every dollar that a rural community puts in, they get back about a $1.70. So it's a pretty good benefit for rural America for roads and bridges being built across their communities. Host: And we also saw last year the number of states that took it upon themselves to increase their own state gas tax that state after state, you know, did something to improve the amount of revenue that was coming in to their own coffers. And no one seemed to pay that political price that everybody expected, that, that idea that boogeyman of saying, if you raise the gas tax, you're going to lose an election. At least the state level never actually materialized. Right? Chairman Shuster: I was going to add, I think that number's up to about 35. Yeah. Have done it. And then the real test case was California. Two years ago, I guess was two years ago. Was it less than a year, I guess was a year ago they had it on the ballot and they rejected repealing the gas tax, something like 57 to 43. So, you know, people understand, they want the roads and bridges to be uncongested and they don't want to bust their tires, break a tire, damage their vehicles. So I think people get it if you, if you pitch it in the right way. Secretary Slater: Yeah. You know, I, I agree with the Chairman on this. And I, I would say, I was thinking about actually Kentucky, Arkansas, some of the other Southern states in particular where Southern governors, you know, have stepped forward to move these measures. Secretary Slater: I was pleased to hear about the reference to California. I mean, I think it makes the case that it's happening across the country. I would offer this in defense of the of the Biden administration in this regard. I think what the president is attempting to do is to sort of rebalance things. And he recognizes that there has been this inequity in the system where frankly, the burden of progress is placed on the shoulders all too often of those who can, you know, either least pay or have the hardest time paying. And I think what he's trying to do here is to say, look, we're not going to raise the tax burden of anyone making less than 400,000 as a couple. That's, that's pretty significant. And so he did not want to raise the gasoline tax for that purpose. Secretary Slater: Did not want to go with vehicle miles traveled for that purpose. And I think where he finds himself at this point, it probably is a policy. That is a good one. Now I don't think that it closes the door always to an increase in use of fees. I think it probably such it up where it, at a time in the future, it'll be a lot fairer to maybe do some of that. And I see that, that time coming, but I can see why the president would want to, at this point have significant lines in the sand about what he would and would not want to see. And then, you know, frankly keep his powder drive when it comes to negotiating at an end point where, you know, you have to find closure on these things. And so I think that's a pretty good position to take. Secretary Slater: I will note this too, that Jeff you're right, that during the early days of the Clinton Administration, the gasoline tax was raised but the president would note that he made the case that it should be raised to deal with the deficit to put our economic house in order in balance. And then four years later was actually when we had the resources transferred from the general fund to the highway fund. So as to take advantage of that 4.3% increase in the gasoline tax. So it was done in a two-step kind of fashion. And it may be that with the passage of time, we may get to a point where we can support more funding for infrastructure through user fees. I agree with that. But I also think we should test any number of other options too. And I know the chairman agrees with this because we've talked about things like an infrastructure bank. We've talked about other public private financing techniques. I mean, putting it all on the table and then selecting those that best fit the moment is the proper course, I believe. Host: It seems like today with the amount of innovative financing available that there are a lot more opportunities to break away from the paradigm of just a simple, you know, either a lockbox highway trust fund, or just all always pulling from the general fund to instead look at other options - P3's whether it's capture or that investment, the reinvestment of potential, you know, I forget exactly what was called chairman, but it was something that you were talking about when you were chairman. It was, it was when, when we bring somebody in to buy something or to lease out an airport.... Chairman Shuster: Asset recycling. Host: Yeah, exactly. How a P3 or asset recycling, something like that. In your conversations with people in government in and out, is that something which seems to be gaining some traction? Chairman Shuster: I think you're always going to have to have some kind of governmental component, whether it's a fed state putting money into it, because these deals we're seeing around the beltway here in Washington, DC, I think the Virginia invested about 20% of the money into it to get a cost down where they wouldn't have enormous tolls on those, on those hot lanes or fast lanes. But so I think there's always that component that will always be there, but I think yes, looking at things like an infrastructure bank and because we look at an infrastructure bank and we've been pushing this during this bill, they almost had a piece. It was a very scaled back version of, there was a infrastructure finance financing agency was small and they, they finally pulled it out the end, unfortunately, but I think, you know, folks in your community the ACEC they deal with these TIFIA and RIFF programs. Chairman Shuster: And every time I talked to a contractor engineer, they tell me it takes 14 to 16 months to get through this process and it's painful and it's cost a lot of money. And so I think having a true infrastructure bank based on the federal home loan bank, it's a real bank, it's independent chartered by the federal government. They're going to be, they can make loans in 90 to 120 days. And if it's a good project or not, and it's only going to be a component of the, just like a P3 is a component of the financing package. So I think it's time for us to really look at these other ideas, asset recycling where it makes sense. And again, as the Secretary said, what comes next is probably a vehicle miles traveled, but we've got all kinds of barriers and hurdles because folks don't want somebody tracking them. But as far as my son, when he was in his early twenties, he held up his iPhone and said, they're tracking every moment of the day. Host: You're being tracked one way or another. Secretary Slater: And Jeff, Jeff, can I just say this, I should have mentioned earlier that even when we increased the gasoline tax and the chairman's father was actually in the Congress along with a former secretary and Congressman Norman Mineta. I mean Jim Oberstar, I mean, just a wonderful group of individuals on the House side. I mentioned the House because I want to put the heat on the House to do what the Senate has done that. But, but they also really gave us tools to create some of these innovative financing programs. The chairman mentioned the TIFIA program, the RIFF program, all of that came into being at that time. And again, it was because of a good piece of legislation that gave federal highways and federal transit and all the Department of Transportation and others, the Treasury the ability to, with the private sector to gain insights about how we might fashion programs that resulted in those programs. I think that there are likely to be some measures that can be used in this bill. Even though, you know, it may not be as clear now that will help us to tap some of those private sector dollars and the private sector ingenuity that you just have to have as a part of an effort like this. And I think ACEC can be a really big part of that of that effort going forward. Host: That's, that's a really good point. And thanks for bringing that up because that's something which, you know, our members need to be pretty strong advocates for this, and they need to take, take their own experience from the private sector, work, working with public sector clients and explaining how they can be more efficient. And that's one of the things we always talk about, qualification space selection. It's kind of that idea of saying that Secretary Slater: We are at the lowest price exactly. Qualification over, over cost. Host: Secretary Slater, let me, let me ask you as a former Secretary of the Department Transportation, right now, how would you, how would you rate the job that Secretary Buttigieg is doing on selling the agenda? Secretary Slater: Well, I don't think it could have been express better than in the post today. That was a, a love piece. Although I thought it was, was balanced as well, because it's all teed up. He still has to deliver it. And yet I've talked about that too. I said, you know, it's great to have a president. Who's talking about infrastructure is great to have, you know, the conduit team that you've got with Polly Totenberg and others there to help you make it happen. But at the end of the day, you gotta make it happen. And I thought what was very telling in the article today, and this is what I really want to underscore is the way that he's made himself available. I mean, to Republicans and Democrats this was actually, I thought set up in his hearing where there were so many members who, you know, they had their issues with him and they, you know, they would take him on, I mean, that's the responsibility I think of the Congress to test the administration. Secretary Slater: That's what our three branches of government separation of powers. That's what that's all about. But then almost invariably at the end of the round, you would have a member saying, and I hope that you will be able to come to mind my state. I know that the chairman has had that experience and, and, and to have a, a secretary or a member of the administration say that not only am I willing to do it, I look forward to doing it so that we together can be on the ground with your constituents, looking at challenges you face that's what really gets a member's attention. And that's what gains their respect, that rate. And throughout the article, you could just see just any number of people mentioned in that way. And you know, that they don't all have this, that they don't all agree on everything. Secretary Slater: And so I think that he is doing a tremendous job. I think that the article was correct in saying that there was always the likelihood that he would be in the president's cabinet or a member of his team where he selected because of the endorsement and the warm endorsement that he gave to Mr. Biden at a very critical time in his campaign. And then the president saying just off the cuff that he reminded him of his son. I mean, all of those things sort of lining up. And then it was noted that he had some interests, but, you know, the president gets a chance to choose. And he said, look, I think that you can best help me and help the country serving in this capacity. And I would say that that the former mayor Pete now, secretary Pete has not disappointed. I'm very, very pleased with the way he's gone about his work. And I think all of these relationships, they're going to pay dividends in the short term and the longterm, and they'll pay dividends for him or his team, and clearly for the the president as well. And so I'm, I'm very, very pleased Host: Chairman. You've worked with a number of secretaries. Where would you put him? Chairman Shuster: I, well, first I think the, you know, Secretary Slater is right on target saying, I think he's done a pretty good job. He's measured when he speaks to, you know, to the media. He's not, you know, throwing bombs out there, which I think is important, especially on an issue like transportation and infrastructure. I think, I think he's also, he's, he's obviously bright. I think we did. He demonstrate that in the debates, I was always impressed with them. Didn't always agree with where his policies were, but I smart he's young, hopefully that makes him want to think outside the box. It says to the secretary of Slater's point, you got to get it done, man. It's great. You got to having a bill here, but you're the guy that's going to have to make that department start to hum. Chairman Shuster: And I think too, that, and this is, I forget who said this - might have been Secretary Slater, or maybe Secretary Skinner said, this is the first time I can remember that the Secretary of Transportation was a presidential candidate. So he's got his own platform of followers. They're saying, Hey Secretary, Pete, you know, we love the guy we were with him when he was running for president. So I think that gives you a whole different platform to be able to get out there and go around the country, but to Secretary Slater's point, he's absolutely right. Going into members' districts, talking to members. I think I think what I've heard from a number of the, at least the moderate Republicans that said, he's great, great access to him, he would call them up. He would, you know, talk, talk through the issues, what they thought were important. So I think that's really important. I know the Secretary Slater did it. I know Ray LaHood did it. You know, through the years I named Sam Skinner, when he would have him out on a conference, he said, he sat down with a members' leadership of the House and the Senate different committees once a month and had breakfast with him. So he, you know, he stayed in touch with him. So I think that's important. Host: And I mean, if this does, if he does land this and like you said, you gets it done. He's going to be sitting on, I mean, Jeff Davis from Eno, kind of doing a rack up on Twitter. And it seems like he would have in competitive grant funding, almost the amount will be quadrupled over what is, what is, what has been in the past almost about 24 to $33 billion, depending on exactly what gets through appropriations. I mean, that's a massive war chest to sit on. That's a political weapon as well. Now I think you meet that point, you know, being a former candidate, he's young, he's got aspirations. I, you know, for the Secretary, I mean, how, how, what advice would you give to sit on that record amount of competitive grant funding? Secretary Slater: Well, I, I would say it a little differently. I would say Jeff, don't sit on it. Host: Yeah. Send it, spend it. Chairman Shuster: I would agree the secretary - right out the door. Secretary Slater: You know, all of the meetings up to this point where you go out and you say, oh man, this would be a great project to fund, that's one thing. When you can go back a little later with all of those resources and say, this is a great project to fund and we're going to fund it. That's a lot better. First of all, you basically say I'm here with the Congressman who is going to make an important now, because it's all about continuing to build those relationships. And I think that I think the secretary is going to really have a wonderful time with members of his team doing just that. And, and, and frankly, I think he'll be creating opportunities really for the president, the vice-president, you know, maybe even a secretary of grand home and others to do that same thing as well. Because the, the key is to not, you know, it's, it's not to sit on it and it's also not to gloat in it. I mean, it's all about really doing the business of the American people and getting everybody involved. And I, I think as a mayor, he's going to understand a former mayor. He's going to just understand that instinctively. Host: And Chairman, I mean, you were great at this. I mean, you made sure both as Chairman and then also back in the ninth district of making sure that everyone at every level of government was included in those announcements, because to underscore the fact that everybody from county commissioner all the way up to member of Congress had a part to play. Chairman Shuster: Well and that's the Secretary's point with the department that the Secretary of Transportation, he may not go down to that granular. When you're a member of the House, you need to go to the township supervisors, have them sit in there with you or whoever it is because it's you know, it, it helps it helps everybody out. And so I think this is, as the Secretary said, you get the stuff out the door. And I believe he's going to get it in places that need like rural Pennsylvania, if he does some good work in rural Pennsylvania, the next time around in elections. I mean, the Democrats win Philadelphia and Pittsburgh big, but if they can diminish how big they lose in the, in the center of the state than it, it's better for their candidates. And again, there's, there's good projects out there for everybody to be able to participate. Secretary Slater: Yeah. And Jeff before, before we go on, I just thought about this. I do think that that Senator Schumer should be given some credit here as well. And I think it was very significant that you had, you know, 19 Republicans, including the minority leader. And I just think you know Majority Leader Schumer and Minority leader McConnell. I just think that they, they deserve a lot of credit here. And I know when the chairman was in office, these were the kinds of victories that you really relish where it was not just the chairman, but it was the ranking member and, you know, the other members of the committee and leadership and really down to the last person coming on because of seniority coming on the committee. Secretary Slater: So I think that manifested itself on the, on the Senate side as well. And, and look, you've got that Brent Spence bridge in the Ohio Kentucky area on I-75 that's going to get some attention now, much needed attendance. And that's very important to the constituents in that region. Chairman Shuster: And it won't be lost on anybody that Rob Portman was the chief, negotiator. Secretary Slater: No doubt about it. Chairman Shuster: And he's from the Southwestern and Cincinnati area. Secretary Slater: We were honored at one point that he was a member of Squire Patton Boggs too. I think I should, we should say that, you know, years ago, Host: Well, I have two final questions. One, I want to ask the Chairman, because now we're looking at the house, we've got the INVEST Act. You made the point that, that it wasn't as bipartisan as previous bills have been at least on the vote total coming out. You know, there's, there's some argument being made about, okay, take the Senate bill up and just get it done. Your experience working across from Chairman DeFazio for a number of years. I mean, he's been very vocal on some areas of policy that are not in the bill, dealing with climate, also dealing with resiliency, do you see him letting leadership kind of move this forward or use without the opportunity to amend it. Or do you think he's going to want to have that formal conference, he's going to want to have the opportunity for the house to put his stamp on it? Chairman Shuster: Well, he's already, he's already given up on a conference because he realizes you go to conference and this thing will never get done. So I think it's going to come over. I think there's the potential for being a couple of amendments, but they're going to be very few and they've got to be something that's agreed to by the, basically the 69 senators that voted for it. So it can be things that, you know, are correcting things and maybe the Senate didn't do right. Because that always occurs, but I don't think you're going to see anything major. And I think the DeFazio, Chairman of DeFazio is going to now focus on getting more dollars to put in these different areas that he has that he, that he supports very much. And that'll be some of these things like resiliency. And, but again resiliency and some of the climate change policies, but he can't change the policy and budget reconciliation, but he can plus up plus up the money or pick the money from one to another, but he can't change policy. So I think he's going to be very focused on that. Host: And just a state of play question for you both to kind of round out the conversation. So right now the current state of play in the House Speaker Pelosi has floated a dear colleague letter, but essentially says that she wants to try to twin both the budget resolution to the infrastructure bill in the rules package, which means that voting on one is voting on both. That's gotten some pushback from moderate Democrats. How do you see this playing out? Do you think that it is going to be a twofer or do you think that you know, there's going to be an agreement to allow infrastructure to go first and then the budget reconciliation? I mean, how do you see the state of play in the House coming at the end of the month? Chairman Shuster: I think she's in a very tough spot. She's got her progressives, they're saying they're not voting for it unless they vote on the big package. And she's got her moderates saying, we're not going to vote on that big package, you need to pair it down. And by the way, we also want to vote on this thing. So I think she's in a really tough spot. She can't afford to lose more than what, three votes, four votes? So she's in a tough spot and I'm not sure how to work out. I don't think it's going to happen. Well, I know for sure it's not going to happen at the end of this month because they're just coming back in the House, to vote for the budget, which will pass. And then they they're coming back September 20th. But I think if she's got this fight to keep them paired some way somehow you know, one goes, first, one goes second kind of thing. Chairman Shuster: She'd probably be, I would bet on Nancy to get it done, but I don't think it's going to look the same you know, at the end of August as it does at the end of October. I mean for these two bills. The infrastructure is going to stay basically the same. It's how big the other package will be. Secretary Slater: Yeah. You know, I'd pick up on the comments of the Chairman in that regard. I think that if I were going to bet on anyone getting it done, I would bet on the Speaker. But that doesn't mean that you cannot acknowledge that it's going to be a heavy, heavy, heavy lift. I, you know, I just think that first of all, I, I just, I don't think we, and I think, I think she took note of this. Secretary Slater: I, I don't think you can just dismiss the significance of the bipartisan vote in the Senate and the size of that vote. I mean, that was, that was very significant. I didn't know that the numbers would be that high. I mean, I would, I was basically counting on 10, 11 maybe. Yeah. But that was it signaled that they would, because I think the highest we got with those who were sort of saying, well, maybe it was about 11. And so I think it bodes well for a number of things that are important to a number of people beyond infrastructure. I mean, I think you've got a criminal justice reform opportunity here. I think you might have something on voting. And I think that you know, the, the Speaker has all of that to navigate and to balance and to negotiate. Secretary Slater: And I just think she ultimately gets it done, but it'll be very, very difficult. I'd also like to say just in support of a Chairman DeFazio, I think he's done a tremendous job as well. I think that his effort was necessary, even though it was a little partisan. And I think, you know, it cut against what his natural tendency was. I mean, and that was to work with your Ranking Member to kind of work through, you know, the process in a way that is, you know, institutionally sound and, and frankly an effort, a way that he'd been a part of for so many years. But I think that what he recognized was that he had to really help the Speaker in speaking to the progressive wing of the party in a way that would keep it engaged. And you know, and I think engaged is probably the best way to say it and they are engaged. Secretary Slater: Now you've got this process going now where the various you know, parts of the party will express itself and she'll have to hear all of that, not dismiss any of it. And then carefully, you know, bind it all together with, I think the ultimate argument and that is don't let perfect get in the way of the good, I really think that it comes down to that and let us survive for another fight. And, you know, it's, it's acknowledged that some of that fight in the future will have her being supportive of others who will be at the helm. And I think she will say, look, stay with me. And you know, I've just tried to be as open as possible to make sure that all opinions are heard, all arguments are given an airing and I believe this is the best we can do. And I think that's what it ultimately is. That's what the final question is. And then the votes are counted and I don't think you take a breath until the last vote is cast, you know, so, and as, as the chairman said, it's a three vote - I mean, she's got three votes to [inaudible]. Host: Yeah. Well, it's going to be an interesting end of August. It's been an interesting August to begin with. I mean, so let's, let's get it done. Hopefully this can get this voted on and passed before the beginning of September. And, and that would be a great thing. So I really appreciate your time and your insight because you both been there you've worked on these issues. You have great insight that I know our audience of member firm executives loves to hear. So thank you for taking the time both of you. And of course, Rodney Slater former Secretary of Transportation is a partner at Squire Patton Boggs now. And of course, Chairman Bill Shuster, former Chairman of the House Transportation Infrastructure Committee, and representative of the of the ninth congressional district or the ninth as it were before redistricting - a Senior Policy Advisor at a Squire Patton Boggs as well. And again, this has been the government affairs update from American Council of Engineering Companies. Thanks for being with us. We'll going to see you next time.
A Conversation with Chair Peter DeFazio, Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee
Wednesday Aug 18, 2021
ACEC was honored to welcome Rep. Peter DeFazio, Chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee onto the show to discuss the next steps for the bipartisan infrastructure bill and budget reconciliation in the House. Transcript: Host: Welcome to Engineering Influence, a podcast from the American Council of Engineering Companies. Today, we are honored to be joined by a longtime friend of ACEC and the engineering industry and a strong advocate for America's infrastructure, House Transportation and Infrastructure Chair Peter DeFazio, who has represented Oregon's 4th Congressional district since 1987. Chair DeFazio is a powerful advocate for transformative federal infrastructure investment and consequential action on climate change. He drafted the INVEST in America Act, which passed the House in early July and became the vehicle for the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which cleared the Senate last week. With passage of that bill, the issue of infrastructure once again squarely lands in the House, which is expected to return from the August district work period later this month to address it, as well as a budget reconciliation bill. I'm also pleased to be joined by ACEC CEO Linda Bauer Darr for today's conversation. Thank you both for taking time to join the podcast today. And with those introductions out of the way, I will throw it over to Linda for the conversation. Linda Bauer Darr: Great. Thanks for doing this, Jeff. And thank you, Chairman DeFazio for being with us. When we were getting started, you mentioned that you just adopted a dog, a Labrador. So, what's the dog's name? Chair DeFazio: Liddy. She's now learning her name. She came from a pound in Texas. They named her Lydia, and we've stuck with it. Linda Bauer Darr: So, you're sticking with it. So how old is she? Chairman DeFazio: A year and a half. The story was that she had pups and was in the kennel with the pups. The pups got adopted. She didn't. They put her on a transport, she came to Oregon, and we got her. So there are a lot of dogs in Texas that are apparently neglected. Linda Bauer Darr: Well, you've joined a long line of people who have adopted pets during COVID. I'm down one pet during COVID, so I'm on the other side of that fence, but congratulations, and I'm sure you will have a great time with Liddy. Linda Bauer Darr: We'll go ahead and get started. You were able to secure passage of the Invest Act in the House. By the way, great job. I know that was a Herculean effort. No doubt that had an impact in showing people that the bipartisan package was on its way and that it was going to make it through the Senate. What stands out to you as the most important provision that you secured in the bill? Or what would you be most proud of? Chair DeFazio: First that we went through a real legislative process. We were in committee for a total, I think, of close to 60 hours over the two years. Hundreds of amendments in committee, hundreds of amendments on the Floor. An actual legislative process. Yeah, I didn't get a lot of Republicans for it in the end, but quite a number of their amendments were included in the bill, in contrast to the Senate bill written behind closed doors principally by people who don't even serve on the committees of jurisdiction in the Senate. So, you know, my bill was transformative. It was really to take the country beyond Eisenhower 8.0 and into the 21st century for transportation policy, dealing with climate change, resilience, and social equity and creating one whole hell of a lot of jobs. Unfortunately, their bill is Eisenhower 8.0 for the most part with a little green dressing on the side, Chair DeFazio: There's more money spent on subsidies for fossil fuels in their bill than on alternative fuels. When you add it up properly you know, they, they say that 25 percent of the zero-emission bus policy has to be spent on polluting buses. Half of the $18 billion for fossil fuel reduction can be transferred to highways. There are a number of provisions like that in their bill. Their bill is slightly bigger on highways than mine, but way less on rail and transit and way less on social equity, way less on wastewater drinking water and lead pipes, which came out of Frank Pallone's committee. So we're going to deal with those deficiencies in Reconciliation, which is in part why we're pairing the two. Chair DeFazio: Reconciliation is going to continue a lot of the democratic agenda. I'm unwilling at this point to pass this bill without some changes. It's been made clear that the cabal who wrote it are not interested in going to regular order and having a conference. That the chairs of the committees of jurisdiction in the Senate were not consulted during the drafting is an absolute insult to them, to the legislative process, and to the House of Representatives. And it's not how you get the best legislation when a group of people write something behind closed doors. So we're going to do our best to fix it. Linda Bauer Darr: I will applaud you on regular order. I think people who have been in Washington for a long time have been very eager to get us back into that good rhythm. And even if neither the Senate nor the House has the perfect bill, the fact that we're exercising those muscles again, I think is hopeful. So, you talked a little bit about Reconciliation and you know, how you're going to marry these things. Can you talk a little bit more about that and the strategy and how you think that's going to work? Chair DeFazio: Reconciliation is going to go through—at least in the House—a committee process. I assume it will in the Senate. It came out of the Budget Committee. The House will pass the budget, and then the committees of jurisdiction will be given their apportionments and we'll work through a legislative process committee-by-committee to put together a bill by mid-September. I think the deadline for us to have legislated our parts is the 15th of September. I'm going to mark up on the 12th of September in my committee. Chair DeFazio: And I'm dealing with the White House since there have been some vague pledges that I'm not quite sure of from the President saying no more money for things that are in this bill, but I didn't make that agreement and I think there are ways to work around that. It can be just a little bit different but I'm working to add back money to transit. We got $100 billion just to bring it up to a state of good repair, let alone to provide new options for people. My bill critically included frequency, which would really help with ridership. Their bill has no decent policy in it. They don't understand transportation. Then rail, Amtrak's doing pretty well, but high speed rail didn't and I very much hope to come up with a different novel high-speed rail category. Then social equity, again, under-funded in the Senate bill. Didn't include my sidebars for affordable housing and to prevent gentrification, which has happened in a couple of cases where we removed freeways. Great, we've just rejoined a community that's been split asunder, and now they're all being driven out. So, I'm not sure how we can deal with that under the Dead Guy Rule, so-called Reconciliation, the Byrd rule, but we're going to try and deal with that. Wastewater is a tiny fraction of the investment we need and way less than I had in my bill. I'm hoping to increase wastewater. I'm hoping also to figure out how to bring back in a green infrastructure for wastewater, which has tremendous promise in addition to methane capture and electricity generation. And then certainly again, I partnered with Frank Pallone on this, drinking water and lead pipe removal were way under-funded. Hopefully we can deal with those things. And then EV charging is very lacking also, and they didn't include Park and Rides. I mean, seriously, I know that truck stops were fighting viciously against including rest areas, but I didn't know anybody was against EV charging at Park and Rides. Unless you're trying to tell people not to take transit. I don't get that one. It might by a that might be a Toomey amendment as he hates transit. I don't know. Linda Bauer Darr: You said that high-speed rail didn't get what you felt it deserved. And then, of course, Amtrak did pretty well. I imagine that had to be one of the President's "This is the deal, and you're going to have to accept it." I imagine it was a huge priority for him. And probably also something that ultimately was pushed by Senator Carper. Obviously their long-term friendship was helpful. Chair DeFazio: Carper didn't have a voice in writing this bill. I talked to him. They did not consult the chairs of the committees of jurisdiction. It was written by the likes of Sinema and Portman and Collins and a cabal of other people and Manchin who got his $8 billion for blue hydrogen, which by the way, if you read the New York Times three days ago—and I've known this for a long time—so-called blue hydrogen is more polluting than CNG. And there are a lot of elements in that bill that are parochial and not dealing with climate change and not dealing with the investments we need to make. Linda Bauer Darr: So how does this all get worked out? You put a lot of time and effort into your bill. It goes over to the Senate and the Senate has negotiated, or some of the leaders in the Senate have negotiated, with the President. We've got it through the Senate. Now we have to come back together. How does this play out ultimately, and how can you have a voice in this process? Chair DeFazio: We are going to have a voice in the process because Reconciliation originates in the United States House of Representatives. We are intending both for the Build Back Better agenda, the things the President wants to do for families, for childcare—so more women can get into the workforce—all those things, in addition to what we can do to at least mitigate some of the shortcomings of the Senate infrastructure bill. Which is why we are pairing the two together. If we moved this infrastructure bill tomorrow, first off, it doesn't go into effect until October 1st, so what's the rush? And secondly, I predict that then we wouldn't even get a Reconciliation bill. It's very likely that wouldn't happen. Often around here, the next thing doesn't happen. Chair DeFazio: I remember when I voted against Obama's recovery act because they had dramatically reduced real investment in jobs, investment in infrastructure, school construction, and other things for tax cuts too small to notice because of that jerk Larry Summers. I tried to get Jim Oberstar to vote the whole committee against it, and I said, Jim, we've got to fix this. He said, "No.They promised me the next thing would be a big infrastructure bill," which then Obama killed. So next thing never happens around here. And that's my opinion on Reconciliation. If we were to just blithely pass. without addressing some of these concerns in the infrastructure bill, we would never see reconciliation. Linda Bauer Darr: You've talked a lot about sustainability and climate and those issues are very important, and frankly that engineering plays an enormous role in—as well as equity—so, you've been vocal about these things. What are the other differences that you see in the Senate bill that stand out to you as red flags? Chair DeFazio: The fact that there is more investment in promoting fossil fuels, requiring that one quarter of the zero-emission buses be fossil fuel buses, allowing the transfer of half the funds into highways, no fix-it-first provisions. Not to make states look at whether more lanes are the best way to go. Senator Kaine tried to do this as an amendment in the Senate because Virginia is the poster child for this. Republicans were in charge. They said, More lanes on 95. It's backed up all the time." But the projections were, in 10 years with two more lanes, one each way, that it would be just as congested as it is today with induced demand and no alternatives at a cost of 10 to $12 billion. Chair DeFazio: And they instead are coming up with an innovative rail project, working with CSX, new right-of-way, new bridge over the Potomac River for rail, the other one's at 99 percent of capacity. CSX likes it. And they're going to run fast trains—not high-speed trains—but fast trains down to Richmond from DC at half the cost, reducing all that pollution. And they have great projections on how much it'll reduce congestion. I was doing a press conference with the mayor of Richmond and he said he never really wanted to be a bedroom community in DC, but it's way less expensive down here. So, things like that that were left out, and they're going to be hard to fix. The other thing is that Secretary Buttigieg under this bill is going to have $100 billion of discretionary grants. I'm working with the White House on how we're going to mitigate some of the boneheadedness in the Senate bill through that $100 billion dollars of discretionary spending. Linda Bauer Darr: That brings to mind years ago when I was at the Department of Transportation, and they were talking about a talent drain, how people were leaving government. And the last Administration, obviously, made an effort to reduce the size of government. How are we prepared in the Department of Transportation to take this money and run with it, considering a lot of it is going to be discretionary and there's going to be a process that needs to be taken on? Chair DeFazio: I'm hopeful that DOT will act with unusual dispatch, and hopefully this won't require a lot of laborious rulemaking. I'm not totally conversant with the details of the discretionary money yet, but we will certainly look at ways to expedite it. If DOT needs more staff to deal with these things or people with different talents, I'd be happy to look at dealing with that either in Reconciliation or in appropriations. I'm already looking at that with the FAA. They lack inspectors both to deal with air rage and with ongoing problems with the industry and the manufacturers. So, if other parts of DOT have been hollowed out—I wasn't aware of DOT getting as hollowed out as the State Department or a whole bunch of other agencies that Trump decimated—but I'll ask on my next conversation with the Secretary what he needs. Linda Bauer Darr: Well, that'd be interesting, if after all this effort, we ran into that bureaucracy, when the money is finally flowing towards projects, that we are all excited to get started on. So, this one is not a question. It's really more a word of thanks. You know that the engineering industry is facing a challenge among firms that took these PPP loans to save jobs and are now being told that they have to give those forgiven loans back because of a quirk in the Federal Acquisition Regulations. You and your great staff on the T&I Committee were very helpful in getting language attached to the Invest Act to lessen the impact of the problem. It didn't make it through in the Senate. At one point, we were making great progress with Senator Braun and some others who had actually even expanded on the work that you did. We were excited about that. Ultimately, it got held up by the process. A lot of the amendments that had a good support behind them fell out, particularly by Rand Paul. He was kind of the party killer. We were very close to getting it done. Linda Bauer Darr: If it comes back to the House, I hope that we're going to be able to count on your support. We've talked about this issue before. It really is unfair. We've got contractors and everyone else that contracts with the government being treated differently than the engineering industry. We're being pulled out and told that "This money that you were given as basically a grant. Well, everybody else doesn't have to give it back, but we're going to take it out of your hides going forward in future projects. So, in some cases you're not going to be paid for the work that you're doing." That, to me, is just insane. We're hoping very much that we're going to be able to get this taken care of, and we hope that will be something that's important to you as well. Chair DeFazio: It's important. It's outrageous. I was not a big fan of the PPP program. The restrictions that were put on people. This is one glaring example. The fraud that occurred through that program. The thing I did for aviation, the Payroll Support Program, had zero fraud and no questions. I know the fix I did in the House wasn't everything you wanted. Unfortunately, I don't have complete jurisdiction. I deal with two other committees who objected. I didn't know how close you came in the Senate. And it's sad that that's a body where one person can stop something that has I think extraordinary merit and we'll continue to work on it, continue to work with the green eyeshade people at DOT, and see what we can do in the House. Chair DeFazio: We’re very bound by the Dead Guy Rule, the so-called Byrd rule, the Reconciliation rules, but we'll see what we can do. Policy is tough under his rules. It's pretty absurd that we're held up by a rule written by a Senator dead 12 years and written 28 years ago. It makes no sense to me. And the Senate does have discretion, which they seem loathe to use to just have the chair rule things in order. And then it takes 60 votes to overrule the chair, which turns the filibuster on its head and ultimately in a good reconciliation bill, if the parliamentarian and seance with Robert Byrd is saying, you can't do these things, I'm hopeful that the Senate leadership puts Harris in the chair to rule it in order. And then the Republicans are going to have to get 60 votes to overturn her ruling. And they can just go forward with the bill with 50 votes. Linda Bauer Darr: We will be in there pitching, and we'll do everything that we can to try to make sure that people have the information they need to make a decision. We absolutely appreciate, again, your support and hope that we can continue to count on it, which it sounds like we can. It's just the process and anything can happen with the process, so let's work towards that. Let's assume and hope that we're successful and we get this major infrastructure package to the president's desk this year. Then what? Other than a vacation, clearly, what's next on your list of committee priorities? What else is up? Chair DeFazio: We’ve already started working on the Water Resources Development Act, which we try to do every two years. And this time not to use the around-the-barn, indirect way of funding individual projects. I intend to go through a similar process to that that I went forward with, which is very rigorous and scandal free on member directed spending, in the Surface Transportation bill, which, by the way, I haven't given up on yet, We have some ideas of reconciliation. Although individually we can't do a projects, we have some ideas. And then some water resources, Coast Guard authorization, reforms at the Federal Emergency Management Agency I'm hoping in reconciliation to create a new pre-development program substantially funded at the Economic Development Administration, which could help a lot of the smaller communities who don't even know how to begin to try to access a federal grants for wastewater, drinking water, housing, or any other thing that relates to economic development. So that that's also something that we'll be working on, plus all the usual burdens of oversight and trying to get the money out the door. This bill will go into effect October 1st, and we want to have a really robust construction season. Linda Bauer Darr: We're with you on hoping for that. I know you don't have a lot more time, but you did reference member-directed projects, which to me is code for earmark. Is that right? Chair DeFazio: Yes, except technically an earmark is something the Appropriations Committee does that isn't authorized. We always did designated spending in surface transportation bills in the House, and they always went through a legislative process. In the Senate, not so much. Things got airdropped in. We went through a rigorous process. 109 Republicans and almost all the Democrats had projects up to $20 million. They had to work with their local governments with their states. And there are a lot of really good projects in there that the state bureaucracy or the federal bureaucracy is never going to get to in people's districts. It was about 1 percent of the bill, and I'm still working on that because I think it has a lot of merit. There are some ways—I’m not going to go into detail—but we have a couple ideas to get around the Dead Guy rule. Linda Bauer Darr: You and I had talked about this over a year ago. I'm with you on the need to give the members some ownership of these projects, give them something to bring back to their communities, because frankly they're there to represent their communities and make the case for their communities when infrastructure projects are required. It seems to me like this is an even bigger issue than what we're working on with infrastructure. It's the ability for Congress to collaborate and compromise. The opportunity to reach across the aisle and say, “I want to help you on this priority. Will you help me on this?” Or “I can do this. It's just doing business.” And it seems like when we were deprived of that. Regular order came to a halt, the wheels of Congress grinded to the halt, and there was less bipartisanship as a result. So, I think you feel passionately about that. I know we at ACEC feel very passionately about it. I think it's important going forward. We thank you for recognizing that. And you know, before we wrap, I am curious, how did you go about vetting those member requests? That's got to be a difficult job, right? Chair DeFazio: It just about killed the staff. We brought in hired some additional staff. First we had to get a vendor to create a software program. And then they had to be submitted online, posting online all of their documentation, showing local support, affidavits of no pecuniary interest, all those things that in the past led to scandals. Plus, obviously, I created equity. I got 20 million bucks and the newest freshmen got 20 million bucks. And you can do a lot. I spread it around between wastewater that'll help a small port in my district attract a fish processor, worked with the port of Coos Bay on rail sidings that will enhance the port activity and get more product on rail instead of truck, and I had a number of projects for electric buses and multi-modal facilities. There were a lot of things that people liked. Chair DeFazio: Quick story, when the whole earmark thing blew up back after ‘06 and the Tea Party came in and they got this bad name and Republicans banned them. I was down in my second most conservative county. Most of my counties are red except for two. And a guy stood up and said that earmarks are horrible. And I said, “I know there have been some issues, but what do you think about the Weaver River Road bridge,” which is a bridge over the freeway that opened up an industrial park. He was “Wow. It's great.” And I said, “Sir, that was an earmark. He said, “That wasn't bad.” And I said, “Yeah, the state wasn't going to do it and the county couldn't afford it. I got it done.” I did a lot of them in my years on the committee and there's never been a scandal. I had some people object to joining North Bend and Coos Bay with a bike path, but tourism is a really important part of our economy. Linda Bauer Darr: That’s a great example there. And who knows better than your constituents about what the needs are and who is better positioned to deliver for them than you, but you have to have that opportunity. The reason for us having this federal program is because it all needs to tie together ultimately. It's like the circulatory system of the body, right? At the center of it maybe is the federal government, but then the state portions and the local portions go out from there and they need to be right on, and we need to make sure that the blood is flowing between the heart and the end of the system and make sure that all the communities are weighing in and earmarks are a way for us to do that. So, we agree with you. It's good for the nation, and I think, it's good for government. And it's good for your constituents ultimately. So again, thanks for being bold and going forward with that, because I don't think without your pushing that it would have entered into the frame again. So, thank you for that. Chair DeFazio: Okay. I enjoyed doing the interview. Liddy and I have done three Zooms in a row. She needs a break. Host: So. Mr. Chairman, I do appreciate it. And thank you for your time today. Good luck in the legislative session ahead. And we appreciate your strong voice for the built environment and for infrastructure. And we do appreciate for everything that you do, and Linda, thank you very much for joining us today on the program. Thank you. Chair DeFazio: Thanks Jeff. Thanks Linda. Hi to everybody who listens to this podcast. Host: And again, this has been Engineering Influence, a podcast from the American Council of Engineering Companies. We will see you next time.
Wednesday Aug 11, 2021
We were joined today by the ACEC Life Health Trust to discuss what firms can do to avoid employee burnout. Visit the ACEC/LHT online today.
Thursday Aug 05, 2021
We welcome ACEC NY President & CEO John Evers to discuss the great work ACEC NY is doing to promote the engineering industry in the Empire State. We also discuss the historic celebration of the organization's centennial this year.
Wednesday Aug 04, 2021
ACEC Board Chair Robin Greenleaf sat down on the program to discuss her experiences to this point in her term. Host: Welcome to another edition of Engineering Influence, a podcast from the American Council of engineering companies. And today we are very pleased to be joined by our board chair, Robin Greenleaf and full disclosure - we actually did this before and we had a technical issue, right when Robin was elevated to chair, we had a podcast scheduled and then the file for some reason in the cloud, the gremlins in the system never actually transferred the file. So, we're doing it again, but now we have a little bit more time has passed and Robin has been engaged in a number of things. I mean, summer ExCom has happened. We've had a number of things occur, so it's going to be great to get her kind of impressions and thoughts about where, where things stand with ACEC and her outlook as chair. So Robin, thank you very much for joining the program once more. Greenleaf : Jeff, I'm happy to be here and you're right. I think that I went from having what was a part-time job to a more than full-time job. So happy to have a chance to talk about it. Host: Yeah. You have really hit the ground running. And you've been traveling - you've been in Washington, DC multiple times for different events, both at the townhouse and then the office, of course we have the summer ExCom at Mackinac Island. I think I'm pronouncing that correctly. I'm not sure, but in Michigan, sorry for those Michiganders if I did pronounce that incorrectly, but yet the summer ended up ExCom in person. I really, I, you know, from, we spoke early when you just took the office and, and now we're at the beginning of August, where are things right now with ACEC as you see them, how has it changed over that time? Greenleaf : So I think that at this point we have the two biggest issues that we were facing that were on the radar screen, but had not really gotten started to the degree I'm seeing now is infrastructure and the PPP FAR credit issue, and both are in full-blown things are happening minute to minute. It's very exciting that, you know, the House got their bill done. And then the Senate went and put a bipartisan bill together, which is, is I think, going to happen. And I'm very interested in seeing what happens to the Senate bill when it gets back to the House. There's a lot of I think there's still a ways to go there, but it looks like we may have a trillion dollar infrastructure bill in the short term, which would be fantastic for our industry. And I think that the the issue with the PPP FAR credit clause has gone from getting traction in the House to at this point. What I'm hearing is that we are very close to having a bipartisan group of senators who are willing to put an amendment in the manager's amendment for a full waiver on the issue, which would be huge for so many of our members. So, you know, we'll know more in the coming days and see what happens when it goes back to the House. Host: It really is amazing. We've been talking about this for months. This has been such a long process and when it finally picks up speed, as we saw last week with the cloture vote, and now with a 20 little over 2000 page two, I think 2,207 page bipartisan bill finally introduced yesterday on Sunday, we're recording this on Monday the 2nd. And then the expectation that the Senate could move the past as soon as Thursday if they're able to get through some of the other barriers that they have on amendment debate, and then getting it over to the House and potentially having something by the late September, let's say mid, mid to late September wants the House comes back at the end of their August recess to get something on the president's desk and get it signed into law. It's amazing how, how fast things have picked up. Greenleaf : There's still things that we need to keep our eye on. I think that hearing that the Speaker of the House is wanting to tie the reconciliation bill to getting this through. You know, there's still some hurdles to clear, but yeah, I think in terms of our own issues and, and being so close to having a great resolution to a big issue, probably one of the bigger issues I've seen since I've been active with ACEC you know, I'm just keeping fingers and toes crossed that we get there. Host: Absolutely. And I, this is a great time for our members that are listening, that, you know, the Senate is going to be doing their work this week and the House is already out in recess, but in no way, does that mean the process is going to stop. Negotiations are going to continue. They're going to ramp up if anything, and it's the perfect time with those members back in their districts to meet with them and educate them on why this bill is so important, not only to your business, but also to the economy as a whole, and then to show them as much as you possibly can, the work that you do and to crystallize in their mind. So when they come back to Washington at the end of the recess, that they have one thought in their mind, which is, this is a bill that has to pass because those complications, as you mentioned, the $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill that Speaker Pelosi and the House Progressives are, are very firm on addressing first, before they talk touch infrastructure is something which is a, is, is a slight complicating factor instead of just dealing with one bill. Host: So this is a great time to educate members and that's something our grassroots does a great job of, and it's just continue that and keep that pressure on. Greenleaf : Yeah, I agree. Host: So what else has kind of changed when we talked early on in the spring? Of course we had a couple of things that were, were key items that you were working on first of course, is the three-year budget cycle. And that was addressed during, during, you know, the, the board meeting. It was addressed again during ExCom meeting, you know, that as well as our initiatives related to the Strategic Plan, especially on diversity and inclusion and add changing the name of the committee so that now it includes the word belonging and, and opening that committee up to as many people who can join. So where, where do things kind of stand right there? And how is that, where is that in the list of priorities for you today? Greenleaf : Well, sure. So let me address the budget issue first, because that's ongoing. We've had a couple of meetings with the budget committee. I just had a financial oversight meeting just prior to starting the podcast. And we have another budget committee meeting on August 9th and staff has done a great job putting together the preliminary numbers for what the next three years looks like. And they look okay, you know, kind of pleased that it looks like we're going to be able to put together a good stable, predictable budget. There are still things that need to be fine tuned. And once we get this all together, Matt Hirst, our treasurer will present it at the October meeting. And then we'll start a series of town hall type meetings with our national directors and the executive directors to just make sure that everybody understands what goes into the budget process. Greenleaf : If they have questions about things that they see would want to make sure that we're very transparent about just giving good information so that, that every single number in that budget is defendable. And and then for the DEI and belonging committee, they they're up and running. And you know, Lisa Brothers is doing a great job pulling that committee together and moving ahead on their goals. So I think that it's something it's an open committee, anyone can join, and it's a great way to, to participate in moving our organization towards being diverse and inclusive. And, and you know, for me, the word that really resonates is belonging, because that is if I was going to describe kind of why I've stayed in the organization for as many years as I have, it would be because of the sense of belonging I experience when I'm with fellow members. Greenleaf : The planning cabinet is hard at work on developing the metrics for the strategic plan. And we have a meeting in August that I'm thinking is still going to be an in-person meeting to go through each of the subcommittees. You know, they all, they went through each of the five pieces of the strategic plan, and there's a group working on each one on what, what are the metrics for success to be able to know that the plan is working as it should. And we'll probably take some of the research that comes out of that and pull it back to the budget and make sure that, that the entire strategic plan is financially supported, where it should be. Host: Yeah, that's something which I know that our team is working on as well, assisting with that metric building process, which is extremely important that you need to know what you're measuring, so you can actually get to success. And it's interesting going through that process of finding out exactly, you know, what, what, what can we measure, where, where do we need to build up our capabilities for measurement? You know, what are our targets for actually, you know, being able to check the box on some of these items, but to that point, I mean, throughout COVID throughout the pandemic of last year into, into, of course this year, implementing against that strategic plan has been still our, our focus here. It's been making sure that we're always pushing that ball forward. So it'll be interesting to see what that meeting this month, you know results in as far as moving forward. Greenleaf : Yeah. I'm looking forward to it. Host: Now you are also taking this message to our members far and wide. You have been traveling a lot over the past couple of weeks and you have more scheduled. I know that most, I guess, most immediate you have the Summer Coalitions meeting, which is a Nashville in-person you're as a former coalitions leader, yourself, someone who has some very some very personal knowledge of the coalitions and its importance to ACEC, what are you hoping to, to tell them what are you hoping to to encourage them about when it comes to ACEC Coalitions? Greenleaf : So I was one of a few people back, and this was a long time ago. I, I need to look up and see when we got CAMEE up and running. And so my experience with, with the CAMEE Coalition, which is Coalition of American Mechanical and Electrical Engineers, is that there was a practice group that we always got together as a committee at the fall conferences. And there became this moment where it just coalesced into being something more. And we realized that if we had a more formal group with an executive committee and you know, our real mission that we could start moving our practice group into just greater value within the association. And I think that that's what all of the coalitions bring at this point. It's, it's something more than a committee it's why we feel that it's okay to be charged a small amount of dues to be a member, because there are products that are being developed. And they're very specific to each of the disciplines, whether it's contracts or kind of client evaluation tools, or self evaluation tools, they're all really, really helpful. And the message I want to deliver at the coalitions meeting next week is that yeah, I think ACEC across the board at the national level has recognized the value of the coalitions and really wants to support the work of all of them. Host: Yeah, absolutely. And I think that's evidenced by our new Coalitions Director, Michelle Kroger. She came on, she is working on on an initiative for new members coming in of a, a year of free coalition membership, which is a great member benefit. Given the fact that, you know, number one is it's not a significant amount of, of, of investment money-wise to join a coalition, but the benefits you get from coalition membership are just so, you know, so outweigh whatever you spend to actually be part of it. As well as a new look we have kind of a new coalition logo and look, that's going along with them. We're trying to get a brand going that kind of establishes coalitions as its own entity within the ACEC family. And to get a little bit more of a, of a highlight there. So that's going to be very interesting again, it's great the fact that we actually meet in person back in Nashville and in next week really next week, Greenleaf : I think it's a week from today from today. I have to think I'm thinking back through where I've been going really.... Host: Recap for the audience where you've been so far, because again, you know, with all these travel issues going around airlines like American, just canceling every, every other flight, it seems you've been a trooper you've been, you've been really hitting the road. We're where have you been and what do you have coming up? Greenleaf : So I've already been to, I'm going to start with the townhouse. If I can put in a plug for the townhouse, then, then I'll get into the, the emo meetings. The townhouse is an incredible resource and having been there for at least half a dozen meetings with, with congresspeople at this point where you're in a small group setting, they walk in, they look around, they go, wow, this is great. And then they get to work with Dave Bender to schedule future meetings of their own, but you get an hour or sometimes more sitting in a very small group of people being able to talk about ACEC issues and agenda and how can they help us and how can we help them? And the conversations are just incredibly productive. And I think before I went down to the deep south conference, I was in Washington Monday through Wednesday of that week and had an opportunity to meet with Seth Moulton, who's a Congressmen from Massachusetts and on the T&I committee and hearing about you know, what, what he's hoping that this infrastructure bill will accomplish. Greenleaf : And we had a very, very small group of us meeting with Jim McGovern Congressman from Massachusetts as well. Who's Chair of the Rules Committee. And he may play a really key role in our PPP issue when it goes back to the house. So really good to spend some time with him. The next step on the tour was the Deep South Conference, and it was great to attend their Executive Committee meeting and hear what the issues are in Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi Tennessee, Florida. And then I had the honor of doing their officer installation at lunch on the last day, which is a lot of fun. And it's a real pleasure. I just love doing that. And then I was home for a couple of days. Then I just got back from the ACEC North Carolina conference and know it's another great group of people. Greenleaf : And it's, it's wonderful to see people in person. It's great to be part of round tables and realize that that no matter where I go, I hear a lot of the same issues and people are really, I won't say struggling. That's not the right word, but front and center is the return to work issue for so many of our members and, and across the country, it's a lot of the same experiences. Let's see. Tomorrow. I am flying to Palm beach for the ACEC Florida conference. And then next week I'll be in Nashville for the Coalitions meeting and then off to Anchorage, Alaska to attend the ACEC Life Health Trust meeting, and then back for a couple of days, and then off to DPC and then planning cabinet. Then I'm taking a break. Host: That is, that is a schedule. So never, never wonder out there, if you're listening, what does the ACEC board chair do? Here's a good example of it. They go everywhere and they talk to everyone in the end, they learn firsthand, you know, what our member firms were experiencing the troubles that were or opportunities that they see ahead of them. And then working with the staff here to, to make sure they're addressed. I mean, this is, this is the, the, the, this is what you need the boots on the ground kind of conversations to really keep the Federation connected. Greenleaf : It's, it's really interesting. And one of the things I learned in North Carolina, which is different than my experience in my home state of Massachusetts, is that when the PPP loan program got put into place when they, when treasury made it tax deductible on the federal side, there's still a lot of states that didn't do similar legislation to make it tax deductible on the state side, Massachusetts, it was done here very quickly and that's great, but in North Carolina, that piece of legislation is stalled. So yeah, it's just great to be able to hear what the issues are. And yeah, I have a lot of empathy for, for the different experiences I'm hearing about, Host: You know, given what you've seen so far, what you've experienced, you know, when you were chair-elect during the height of the pandemic, really and you know, where we sit right now, you know, what's your overall feeling about where things are going and where's ACEC is going you know, what's your, what's your gut take confidence level of, of you know, right track, you know, what do you think? Greenleaf : I think ACEC is very much on the right track. I think that I'm hearing by and large, most firms are busy and have, have reasonable backlog. And their expectation is that 2021 is going to be a good year. I think there's still a lot of hesitancy on the return to work issue that I've already mentioned. I think that the resurgence of COVID pretty much across the country is giving people pause. And yet I'm hearing a lot of confidence that you know, if you've been vaccinated that you can still go travel, go visit people and, you know, continue to hold in-person meetings with, with some degree of caution. And so, yeah, and I'll put in a plug for our October meeting. I am not hearing, you know, I think, I think that you know, one thing that I saw recently is the DPC meeting is coming up and it will be an in-person meeting. I think that, that there is some caution that, you know, it's probably better to be vaccinated, to go attend in person, to keep everybody as healthy as possible. And, you know, and so when we do something like that for the October conference, I don't know, I think that's a pretty preliminary conversation, but probably worth. We're thinking about, so, and I'm not hearing any, any hesitance about not holding the conference Host: And we've been very - Mike and his team, the meetings team has been very clear with the hotel, the host hotel, the Marriott, to make sure that, you know, their health and safety standards are top-notch that, you know, the safety and the health of our guests and our attendees at the event is top of mind for us. And that's why we have it. We have a post of what Marriott's doing up on the fall conference page. It's something that we're continually monitoring. So, but I think you're absolutely right. You know, the numbers that we've seen when we've done some surveys, that the desire is there to come back and meet in person. And, you know, we're, we're working to put together a program that's going to make it worth your time. And I think that it's going to be great to get everyone together again, for all the great stuff that happens in fall. And, and to really, I think we learned a lot during the virtual events, that's actually gonna benefit going back in person and hosting the event in person. It's kind of a strange thing where having to move everything to a virtual environment kind of made us rethink some things. And, and, and, and I think it's going to translate back in person to, to an, even better to an even better event. So registration's open, I'll make a plug registration is open - acec.org. Greenleaf : You know, when you go to a conference and the two that have already been to the thing that is so different about in-person is, you know, I might hear somebody say something and I'm able to go walk up to them afterwards and say, hey, you mentioned this you know, about what you're doing with your office in your return to work strategy. And this is what I'm thinking about. And then you end up having a drink at the bar, just continue the conversation. You can't do that in a zoom setting. And those are the invaluable conversations. Host: Yeah, absolutely. Now, without question. So we're, we're hoping that everyone takes advantage of that both, you know, attendees, exhibitors alike. And and again, you know, registration is open up on acec.org. We invite you to go up and take a look and we're adding stuff to the schedule every week. And and we hope to see you there October. What else is going on? What do I guess, you know, I want to be respectful of your time. What other things would you like to make sure our audience knows, you know about what you're working on and what you're seeing ahead of us. Greenleaf : So I think one of the things that I'm becoming very aware of is there's been a lot of discussion about our research Institute. And when I was at the the deep south conference in their executive committee meeting, Daphne Bryant was there with us. She made a great presentation about the Institute and, and it's something that even, I didn't have a full enough appreciation for just what it brings to us as an organization. And one of the things that that came up was that through the Institute, we have the ability to really stay out in front of the organization with issues that they may not be on our radar screen yet, or they may just beginning to be. And so we've got a group of people that can go and find the experts to conduct really forward-thinking research for us. And what it does for us as an association is just adds this extra bandwidth to what we do. And I think that, that I, that's the way I think of the Institute at that at this point, it's not even frosting on the cake. It's just having this ability to look ahead. And, and then what we do is use that research to help prepare our members for what may be coming that we haven't really thought through yet. Host: No, absolutely. I think the the research they did initially on the economic modeling, the profiling and the contribution report has been extremely helpful. We were able to take that and apply that to the infrastructure bill. So as you notice, everything that we put out, even on social media, and we encourage everyone who is meeting with Members of Congress to do the same is to talk about that economic benefit, because now we have the numbers to prove it. We can say that the bipartisan bill would add 82,000 new jobs in our sector of the economy. However, thanks to the work of the ACEC Research Institute, we know that for every new engineering job created, two more are added in roles that support or benefit from engineering. That means a total of 246,000 new jobs will be added to the economy over six years. Now we can talk about GDP contribution. We can talk about the addition of $62 billion in A/E industry wages, actual numbers that can serve as the foundation for any argument we make on the benefits of investing in engineering. And then of course the research that they have upcoming that they're going to be there, there, there are a number of pieces of research that are in development right now, which we, we do feel that are going to be very beneficial to our members from the Institute. Greenleaf : It's all great stuff. Host: And yeah, so there was a lot happening. This is an exciting time to be chair, I hope. And, and you're making the most out of it. So that's, that's the important thing and, and, you know safe travels on your, on your trips ahead. It's going to be a busy time. You're going to pretty much crisscross the lower 48, and then you're going to head over to Alaska for the life health trust meetings. So that's, that's something that's something in itself. But we do appreciate you taking the time today, Robin, thank you very much for joining us. Greenleaf : I'm happy to be here, Jeff, thank you for the opportunity. Host: Anytime. And again, this has been another episode of Engineering Influence podcast from the American Council of Engineering Companies. We'll see you next time.
Friday Jul 30, 2021
Matt Reiffer joined the program to discuss the Senate's cloture vote on the bipartisan infrastructure agreement earlier this week and what it means for action in the House.
Thursday Jul 29, 2021
Cybersecurity has become a big issue in recent months as we’ve seen a surge in cybercrimes. Several have made the headlines, including ransomware attacks on the Colonial Pipeline, JBS Foods, the computer manufacturer ACER, and AXA, an international insurance company that ironically had just announced days before the attack that it would no longer reimburse some clients for ransomware payments. Likely, many more attacks go unreported, and experts predict that the pace and severity of cybercrime activity will increase. Kevin Holland of Lockton's Engineering and Design Practice joined the program to talk about the current situation with cybercrime, its frequency in the engineering industry, cybersecurity insurance, and what firms can do to protect themselves.
Wednesday Jul 28, 2021
On the program, we talk with Charles Marohn, founder and president of Strong Towns, a grassroots organization that supports a drastically different model of development for America’s cities, towns, and neighborhoods than the one we currently follow. In September Marohn will publish his next book on this subject, titled Confessions of a Recovering Engineer: Transportation for a Strong Town. The book looks at how transportation infrastructure and the values and assumptions behind it drive development in this country and offers an alternative, one that clashes in a lot of places with current engineering and cultural thinking.
Friday Jul 23, 2021
We welcomed Matt Reiffer from ACEC's advocacy team to the show to discuss the week's failed cloture vote on infrastructure and what it means for the future of the bipartisan infrastructure package.
Thursday Jul 22, 2021
Cardno, an international infrastructure and environmental firm ranked #58 in the latest ENR rankings, recently hired Shawn Fackler as Principal Archaeologist in its Portland, Oregon office. Shawn and Cardno Business Unit Manager Karen Beattie came on the program to talk about the role of an archaeologist in an engineering firm.