Obama Lacks True Grit

Lurita Doan

1/31/2011 12:01:00 AM - Lurita Doan

In the movie True Grit, U.S. Marshall Rooster Cogburn and Mattie Ross, are no-nonsense, fearless, tough as nails characters adverse to sugar-coating problems, with a single-minded determination to get the job done. Rooster and Mattie exemplify an American virtue of “true grit”. On the other hand, Obama, in his recent State of the Union address, showed nothing but gloss.

Americans have always admired grit. Our nation, formed from audacious, ambitious adventurers and intellectuals, would not have survived without the “true grit” of generations of Americans willing to fearlessly fight foes, endure hardships, and bulldoze their way to a better life.

Americans expected the president to deliver the bad news about the economy, job creation and tough days ahead and propose tough solutions to get the job done. But, that didn’t happen.

Instead, in a weird, back-to-the-future kind of moment, Obama recommended that the nation spend more. He proposed more infrastructure spending in his plan to “win the future” and create more jobs. Didn’t he promise that two years, and $1,000,000,000,000.00 dollars ago?

No additional federal funding is needed to stimulate a federal construction boom by bbuilding bridges, roads, and other federal buildings, creating jobs and stimulate the economy. Federal construction is restricted, not by the lack of money, but by lengthy timelines caused by slow permitting processes and excessive bureaucratic regulations.

What is needed—desperately-- is no-cost, regulatory reform of the existing federal building process and a leader with girt that is willing to reduce the stifling bureaucratic process and regulatory regime that throttle all infrastructure projects in the US. To illustrate the problem, today the average cycle to conceive, design, fund and ultimately construct a federal building takes approximately 7 years. Most of that time is wasted on bureaucratic, regulatory process.

But make no mistake, a building boom is possible, and doesn't need to be stimulated by a federal handout. What is needed is dedicated leadership willing, and able, to curtail excessive bureaucratic reviews and focus more on the actual building of new infrastructure, versus a timid, rote adherence to an unsuccessful process that does not serve the nation.

What is needed is a leader with grit, to confront and refuse demands that require union involvement in construction, adherence to insanely lengthy environmental reviews, and endless wrangling on construction permits and reviews.

Congress knows this, too. Moving from conception, to prospectus, to congressional approval often takes as much as three years. Design, Bid and Award can take another two years. And then, there's the actual time required for construction. No wonder the average timeframe for a government building project is seven, long, costly years.

President Obama and his advisors do not understand the government procurement process, or the government construction process, and learned nothing from the supposed, “Shovel Ready” projects sold as part of the stimulus bill. A quick review of the construction projects, once touted by President Obama, will show that most are still tied up in nightmarish, regulatory processes, scoring rules, prospectuses, approvals, assessments, FONSIs (Finding of No Significant Impact) and Permitting.

Had Obama really wanted to push infrastructure projects, he could have eliminated or reduced any or all of the many different, bureaucratic hurdles that a building project must navigate. All sorts of infrastructure projects could be made “Shovel Ready” if a dedicated leadership were willing to curtail excessive bureaucratic reviews.

The simple fact is that federal building projects need regulatory reform to get moving. For example, an Executive Order to reduce the time required for the State department to issue Presidential Permits for construction of border crossing points would cost no money and could expedite border construction projects, with the added benefit of unclogging the nation’s trade arteries required for spurring exports.

Yet another good move would be for the President to issue an Executive Order to reduce the amount of time required for the government’s approval of FONSIs (Finding of No Significant Impact) on federal construction. Obama could increase the frequency of presenting building design and cost prospectuses to congress for approval. Why not change the rules regarding small business participation and joint ventures in construction projects under $50 million dollars? Obama could rescind the requirement for Project Labor Agreements (PLAs) which punish non-union, small construction businesses and often prevents them from bidding or performing federal construction work in their communities. Federal construction projects, such as federal office buildings, federal court houses and land border ports of entry could create jobs in local communities throughout the United States, since most of these types of projects utilize local labor, local, skilled craftsmen and local, licensed construction professionals, many of which are small and minority businesses.

These projects don’t need more money; they need better understanding the federal construction process’ bottlenecks and more willing leadership in removing those bottlenecks.

If we are to actually ignite a national effort to build and repair the bridges, roads, and other critical infrastructure in the country, what is needed most is a man with true grit. In his State of the Union message, President Obama showed instead, that he is not willing to face the problem squarely and take the actions needed to get results. What a pity.