by Vincent Alonzo | February 20, 2018
President Trump has begun trying to deliver on his campaign promise to upgrade and modernize America's highways, airports, harbors, inland waterways, railways, electric transmission lines, and water pipes and treatment plants -- which would make planning and executing great meetings and events much easier.
We asked John Sitilides, Principal at Trilogy Advisors LLC in Washington, D.C., a firm that specializes in federal regulatory affairs and global risk analysis, to assess the prospects for success for this initiative. 

Sitilides said there are three stumbling blocks that could keep the President's infrastructure program from getting started.

1. Finding the money for it

Much of the infrastructure debate focuses on how to pay for the projects. President Trump's plan during the campaign was to privately finance most of the projects using debt financing, tax credits and future usage fees, such as road tolls. The President's critics consider the debt-financed private investment plan a betrayal of the public interest, possibly imposing regressive user fees on lower-income Americans and bypassing pressing public needs that might be less profitable to private companies. This will make for a contentious infrastructure debate in Congress, with no guarantee of a successful outcome.

2. Complying with environmental regulations

Current federal environmental regulations render nearly impossible the ability to even break ground on any new project, due to costly and lengthy federal environmental regulatory requirements. The White House Council on Environmental Quality was established under the federal National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to oversee the interagency process for assessing the environmental effects of proposed actions, and achieving a balance between public needs and resource use, prior to making decisions. NEPA requires an environmental impact statement before any major road, tunnel, bridge or another project can proceed. The Government Accountability Office stated in 2014 that the average time to complete an environmental impact statement is more than four years. Federal Highway Administration data from 2013 show that the median time to complete a highway project statement was more than seven years. That means that even if an infrastructure program were to pass in 2018, unless streamlined environmental regulations to expedite permit review and issuance are included in the legislation, there might not be any actual economic activity until the next decade.

3. Complying with additional federal regulations

In the infrastructure investment sector, the U.S. lags behind Singapore, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Canada, Malaysia, Norway, and Sweden. Much of the problem lies with redundant federal environmental regulations imposed on almost every infrastructure project. President Obama in 2014 released draft guidance that all federal departments and agencies consider the effects of greenhouse gas emissions and climate change in their reviews, further extending the time required to complete the requisite statements. The non-partisan institute Common Good issued a 2015 report noting that "a six-year delay in starting construction on public projects costs the nation over $3.7 trillion, including the costs of prolonged inefficiencies and unnecessary pollution," more than double the cost of the actual projects. Many projects require as many as 10 years of environmental review just to be approved, let alone begun and completed.

The bottom line

Even if President Trump successfully persuades Congress -- Republicans and Democrats alike -- to pass a bipartisan infrastructure bill, he will be frustrated by the reality that under current federal regulations, the first project wouldn't begin, and the first job wouldn't be created, until 2022. The real first step to a national infrastructure and job-creation agenda is requiring all federal environmental impact statements be completed in a 12-month "one-stop" permitting process. Only then will a national infrastructure plan have a chance to accelerate economic growth and build the necessary foundation for sustained opportunity and prosperity for American citizens and businesses for years and decades to come.

On Tuesday, February 27th, Goodman Speakers Bureau will be sponsoring Sitilides' keynote session at SMU International. The session, "Globalization: A World of Opportunities" will take the attendees on a worldwide problem-solving tour, highlighting regions that offer both risks and opportunities -- with an eye towards preparing for the former and taking advantage of the latter. Looking at the world through the multiple lenses of economic, political, and cultural trends, Sitilides connects the dots to create a portrait of a world, that, while chaotic, is ultimately moving in the right direction for the meetings industry.