Renewing American Infrastructure


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The Stanford University Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law, the Stanford Global Projects Center and Common Good hosted the “Renewing American Infrastructure” Roundtable 


The roundtable brought together senior leaders and policymakers from the public and private sectors and academia to Stanford for a two-day workshop. Attendees discussed federal policy reforms to accelerate and enhance the development and redevelopment of critical economic and social infrastructure in the United States, with a focus on maximizing the public benefit of new federal spending and institutional reforms to streamline investment at the federal, state and local levels.  


The Renewing American Infrastructure Roundtable was held on February 9th and 10th, 2017 to discuss federal reforms and policy changes in the US to accelerate the improvement of our critical economic and social infrastructure. The roundtable was hosted jointly by the Stanford Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law (CDDRL), the Stanford Global Projects Center (GPC) and Common Good, a non-partisan reform group.  


Participants included policymakers and leaders from the public and private sector as well as academia. Topics of discussion included policy and regulatory reforms to make infrastructure investment more efficient, and potential mechanisms to finance a new federal infrastructure initiative in the US.  


While acknowledging that additional federal spending on infrastructure will help, the roundtable participants formed a consensus that policy and institutional reforms are also sorely needed. Many US institutions and policies for approving and developing infrastructure projects are extremely outdated and have not kept pace with best practices globally. Any new federal infrastructure initiative will need to combine policy reforms with additional Federal, State, local and private spending to be successful.   


The participants developed four thematic areas for policy reform recommendations to accelerate the improvement of US economic and social infrastructure. Those initiatives include: 


  1. The role of private investment and management expertise should be dramatically expanded. Even where projects are funded predominantly by the public sector, public-private partnerships (P3s) can optimize project delivery with “design-build-operate-maintain” contracts that account for the life-cycle costs of keeping infrastructure working in good order.  


  1. Nonetheless, it is an illusion to think that private sector resources will be sufficient by themselves to fix the problem:  many necessary infrastructure projects will not generate the revenues needed to attract private investment.  The federal government will need to provide new resources, through new borrowing or taxation, to cover needs like the simple maintenance of existing structures. To consolidate federal infrastructure investment and procurement resourcesthe Roundtable proposes creating a new Federal Infrastructure Agency headed by a cabinet-level appointee with responsibility for national infrastructure spending and project support that are currently spread across numerous agencies. Consolidating responsibility is essential to set priorities, coordinate projects and afford the public transparency in the allocation of federal resources.  This agency and cabinet member could be set up for a designated time period – say ten years – to assess its effectiveness before extending its mandate beyond the sunset date. 


  1. Planning and permitting must be streamlined so that projects can move from the drawing board to shovels in the ground in no more than two years. These processes must be overhauled so that public input is solicited early in the planning, not after a project is cast in stone. Clear lines of authority must be created to decide issues about environmental review to avoid years of unnecessary delay, overseen by the Chair of the Council of Environmental Quality. Finally, the new Secretary of Infrastructure should have authority to resolve disagreements among different agencies, including pre-empting state and local authorities if necessary to avoid delay on projects of national importance.   


  1. State and local governments should retain primary responsibility for prioritizing infrastructure investment and funding within their jurisdictions.


Specific policy recommendations and institutional changes under each of these initiatives will be published in the weeks and months following the roundtable. The roundtable was chaired by Stanford Professors Francis Fukuyama and Raymond Levitt, and Philip Howard, founder of Common Good. 




Stanford Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law 

Djurdja Padejski, Communications Manager 

T: 650.723.9959 


Stanford Global Projects Center 

Terra Strong, Program Manager 

T: 650.725.2380 


Common Good 

Emma McKinstry 

T: 203.912.7174 


About the Stanford Center for Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law 
The Center
on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law (CDDRL) at Stanford University has collaborated widely with academics, policymakers and practitioners around the world to advance knowledge about the conditions for and interactions among democracy, broad-based economic development, human rights, and the rule of law.  CDDRL is home to a dynamic interdisciplinary research community of innovative and distinguished faculty members and scholars from around the world. Their work spans the globe and bridges the divide between academic research and policy analysis, forging partnerships not only with other research centers but also with international development agencies, governments and civil society organizations in numerous countries.  

More information can be found at  


About the Stanford Global Projects Center 
The Stanford Global Projects Center (GPC) is an interdisciplinary research center at Stanford University that seeks to facilitate understanding of the financing and development of critical infrastructure globally. The center conducts research on the policies and practices of institutional investors getting capital into the real economy, and studies best practices of public agencies in investing in and developing new infrastructure. The center also facilitates engagement among academic, government and industry leaders in the sector.  

More information can be found at  


About Common Good 
Common Good is a nonpartisan reform coalition that offers Americans a new way to look at law and government. We propose practical, bold ideas to restore common sense to all three branches of government––legislative, executive and judicial––based on the principles of individual freedom,
responsibility and accountability. Common Good’s philosophy is based on a simple but powerful idea: People, not rules, make things happen. This idea is fundamental to how we write laws and regulations, structure government agencies and resolve legal disputes. It affects all our lives, every day. Our mission is to overhaul governmental and legal systems to allow people to make sensible choices. We believe Americans need to be liberated to do their best. 
More information can be found at