The Corpus Callosum

On 6 June 2008, the Federal Register in the USA contained
a notic
e, that the Department of Homeland Security is
conducting a review.  They are reviewing the National
Infrastructure Protection Plan (NIPP).

The Federation of American Scientists points
that DHS is soliciting public comment.

The NIPP is explained and documented at a DHS site.
 one of the documents (1.3MB PDF) is this one: National
Strategy for Physical Protection of Critical Infrastructure and Key
.  It highlights the importance of
our infrastructure:

The Importance of Critical Infrastructures
America’s critical infrastructure sectors provide the foundation for
our national security, governance, economic vitality, and way of life.
Furthermore, their continued reliability, robustness, and resiliency
create a sense of confidence and form an important part of our national
identity and purpose. Critical infrastructures frame our daily lives
and enable us to enjoy one of the highest overall standards of living
in the world.

Indeed, it would be hard to argue that critical
infrastructure is anything but, well, critical.  

So it makes sense to think about protecting it.  In developing
a strategy for protection, it makes sense to look at two kinds of
threat: the gravest threats, and the most likely threats.

The gravest threats are the catastrophic ones:
nuclear bombs, hurricanes, floods.   But by far the most
threat is nothing like that.  The most likely
threat is simple decay.  

cracks are showing

Jun 26th 2008 | CHICAGO AND NEW YORK
From The Economist print edition

America’s tradition of bold national projects has dwindled.
With the country’s infrastructure crumbling, it is time to revive it

For the past few years it has been hard to ignore
America’s crumbling infrastructure, from the devastating breach of New
Orleans’s levees after Hurricane Katrina to the collapse of a big
bridge in Minneapolis last summer. In 2005 the American Society of
Civil Engineers estimated that $1.6 trillion was needed over five years
to bring just the existing infrastructure into good repair. This does
not account for future needs. By 2020 freight volumes are projected to
be 70% greater than in 1998. By 2050 America’s population is expected
to reach 420m, 50% more than in 2000. Much of this growth will take
place in metropolitan areas, where the infrastructure is already run

If America does not act, says Robert Yaro of the Regional Plan
Association (RPA), a body that plans for the New York-New
Jersey-Connecticut region, it will have the infrastructure of a
third-world country within a few decades…

tha articles goes on to point out that America has a “grand tradition
of national planning,” but adds,

Such plans stand in stark contrast to the federal
government’s strategy today. America invests a mere 2.4% of GDP in
infrastructure, compared with 5% in Europe and 9% in China, and the
distribution of that money is misguided.

So the Administration is scrambling to figure out how to protect the
infrastructure, but at the same time, they are letting it whither on
the vine.  

It is not that the problem has gone unrecognized.  In 2005,
Congress created The
National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission

to study the problem, with respect to the transportation
infrastructure.  They concluded:

The U.S. now has incredible economic potential and
significant transportation needs.  We need to invest at least
$225 billion annually from all sources for the next 50 years to upgrade
our existing system to a state of good repair and create a more
advanced surface transportation system to sustain and ensure strong
economic growth for our families.  We are spending
less than 40 percent of this amount today
. [emphasis added]

A significant increase in public funding is needed to keep America
competitive.  Additional private investment in our system is
also needed.

Keep in mind that this was a Republican-dominated Congress at the time.

Incidentally, the Commission felt that development of commuter and
freight rail systems should be a high priority.  But is the
Government following its own advice?  Hardly.  Every
year, Amtrak struggles
to get one billion dollars in federal funding.  Contrast this
with the $15  billion the airlines got after 9/11, and the $30
billion that went for the Bear Stearns bailout.  Yet the
airline industry is in a decline (as is the banking industry), while
rail usage is increasing.  

In 2006, the Center
for Strategic and International Studies
sponsored a similar
to develop a report: Guiding
Principles for Strengthening America’s Infrastructure

(PDF.)  They concluded:

America’s economic well-being and physical security
depend on safe and reliable public infrastructure. Roads, airports,
railways, ports, and other public investments are instrumental in
boosting America’s productivity and global economic competitiveness.
Facilities that manage water, waste, and energy are fundamental in
sustaining our quality of life and health. But we are both
under-investing in infrastructure and investing in the wrong projects: new
investments are critically needed, but we lack the policy structures to
make the correct choices and investments.

No kidding.

The CSIS folks were off on at least one thing: “Aviation passenger
traffic is projected to grow by more than 39 percent between 2006 and
2016.”  But they point out some alarming things that I can’t

The nation’s infrastructure facilities are
deteriorating at an alarming rate. For example: half of the 257 locks
on the more than 12,000 miles of inland waterways operated by the Army
Corps of Engineers are functionally obsolete; three-quarters of the
nation’s public school buildings fail to meet the basic needs of
children; 27 percent of the 590,750 bridges nationwide are structurally
deficient or obsolete; $11 billion annually is needed to replace aging
drinking water facilities. The American Society for Civil Engineers
(ASCE) estimates a five-year total investment need of $1.6 trillion,
and grades the nation’s overall infrastructure as a “D.”

The ASCE Report Card for America’s Infrastructure is on their
.  Sure, they have a vested interest in the
subject.  More construction means more jobs for them.
 But they provide data to back up their claims.  For
example, they point out that spending for maintenance of the electrical
grid has declined by 1% per year for the past 16 years.
 Likewise, investment in wastewater treatment is declining,
even though the system is aging, and in some cases, overtly failing.

There are a few flickering signs of change.  The House just
passed HR
, which calls for increased public transit funding.
 Some of the Presidential candidates, although not McCain,
support infrastructure improvement.

The AAAS summary of the Science and Technology platforms of the two
candidates includes this for Obama:

Specifically, Senator Obama’s platform

  • Creating a newly appointed Chief Technology Officer (CTO)
    to ensure
    that the government has the most updated infrastructure and technology
    services available.
  • Doubling federal funding for basic research
  • Investing $150 billion over ten years in the
    next-generation of
    biofuels and fuel infrastructure, commercialization of plug-in hybrids,
    commercial-scale renewable energy, and transition to a new digital
    electricity grid
  • Making the R&D tax credit permanent
  • Making skilled labor a top priority
  • Improving the H-1B visa program to attract highly
    skilled talent from abroad to enhance U.S. competitiveness.
  • Reforming the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office

And for McCain:

Senator McCain’s platform
addresses competitiveness through tax incentives for innovation,

  • Banning Internet taxes

  • Making the research and development tax credit permanent
    and establishing the credit at 10 percent of wages spent on R&D

  • Allowing first-year deductions, or “expensing”, of
    investments in equipment and technology

I couldn’t find a comparable independent source for Nader, but I did
learn that before the 2000 election, he proposed
spending the surplus on infrastructure improvement.
 Obviously, that is not even faintly possible now, but it
gives us an indication of his priorities.

Anyway, back to the main point.  The DHS is proposing that we
refine our plan to protect the infrastructure.  Fine.
 But without some additional investment, “the terrorists”
won’t have to do a thing.  It will all fall apart on its own.


  1. #1 PhysioProf
    June 29, 2008

    Ah, quitcher whining. It’s much more important that we x-ray everyone’s shoes at the airport and make sure they don’t bring any contact lens solution on planes, cause they could KILL YOUR CHILDREN WITH A SUITCASE BOMB!!!111!!!1!!1!!! ZOMFG!!1111!!!!!!

  2. #2 Joseph j7uy5
    June 29, 2008

    I appreciate your sentiment. Let me point out that I do not intend to whine. Rather, I intend to point out, calmly — indeed, dispassionately — that out priorities are hopelessly screwed up. We are burning our candle at both ends, and trying to light it in the middle, too. Meanwhile, all our bees are dying, and we are running out of beeswax.

  3. #3 PhysioProf
    June 29, 2008

    Bees, schmees. I heard Obama is a Muslim, and is going to institute Sharia law if he gets elected. It’s true! I read it in an e-mail! You know his mother was a COM SYMP, right?

  4. #4 Tegumai Bopsulai, FCD
    June 30, 2008

New comments have been disabled.