Remarks by Rick Capka
Federal Highway Administrator
May 7, 2004
When Mary Peters, the FHWA Administrator, learned about my Big Dig background, she asked me to give mega-projects and major project management special attention.
Two other areas of special attention as Deputy Administrator — the seemingly never-ending process leading — soon I hope — to surface transportation reauthorization. And nurturing transportation research and technology . . . bringing time and money-saving innovations to a road or bridge near you.
There’s no question transportation moves the American economy. We should never forget that the work we do assuring the mobility and safety of all Americans is very, very important. Our economy is on the move because President Bush’s jobs and growth plan is working.
The President’s policies have helped propel the recovery forward, putting more money in the pockets of America’s families and laying a foundation for growth and job creation now and for years to come.
— Job creation is accelerating — 308,000 new jobs in March and 759,000 during the last seven months.
— The economy grew at an annual rate of 4.2 percent in the opening quarter of 2004, a solid showing and fresh evidence that the business recovery is solidly on track.
— The national unemployment rate was 5.7 per cent in March — far below its peak of 6.3 per cent in June 2003, and below the average of the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s.
— Over the past year, the unemployment rate has fallen in 44 of the 50 states.
— Initial unemployment claims have remained at levels consistent with strong job growth.
— Consumer confidence is at its highest level in three months and is rising, according to the Conference Board.
— Because transportation is so fundamental to the underlying strength of our economy, Secretary Mineta unveiled our new Transportation Services Index (TSI) earlier this year.
— The TSI is an important tool from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics that shows how the transportation sector mirrors the performance of our economy.
— I’m sure you won’t be surprised to know that the TSI shows U.S. transportation output at an historic high — and because the TSI appears to be a leading indicator of the economy, that means good news ahead.
— If you look at the numbers, almost every time TSI heats up, the economy follows. And there aren’t any downturns without TSI turning down first.
— Being able to track these trends through the TSI index enables us to put transportation higher on the national policy agenda.
I know that transportation is the best investment we can make to bring prosperity — new jobs — to cities and states.
PRESIDENT’S REAUTH PRINCIPLES
Similarly, I believe the President’s reauthorization principles are the best solution — the best investment — to end the stalemate over a new bill.
We continue to focus on passage of a fiscally responsible six-year bill. Last week, Congress approved yet another temporary extension . . . their third. This needs to be the last extension. We are more than seven months past the original deadline. It’s time for Congress to get the job done and pass a long-term bill!
At the same time, it’s important that Congress pass a fiscally responsible bill without any additional tax burdens on the American people. I appreciate that, from an industry perspective, the talk of more money sounds appealing, but not if it undermines all that President Bush has done to get our economy back on track. The President has laid out clear principles for what is acceptable in terms of funding this legislation, and the Administration hopes that we can work together to move a bill to the President’s desk that he can sign.
That means a bill that does not impose costly new taxes, a bill that does not add to the deficit, and a bill that does not take money from other important priorities. That means a six-year bill so that states and local communities can plan for the future. It means a bill that includes improvements in rules for environmental streamlining, air quality conformity, and innovative financing.
As Emil Frankel, assistant secretary for transportation policy has said, “We need to strike the right balance between fiscal responsibility and needs. And I think the White House proposal does that.”
A BIGGER BOAT
Along with reauthorization, mega-projects and project management are at the top of my agenda at Federal Highways. I know how important it is to stay on top of projects from the start.
Approaching a mega-project or any large project for the first time is like the situation Sheriff Brody (played by actor Roy Scheider) finds himself in the movie “Jaws.” The sheriff, like all those who have the responsibility for delivering a major project, has a tough mission. He must capture or kill the Great White Shark that is terrorizing his resort community.
The town depends on his skill and talent. Although he has yet to see the shark, he knows he faces a complex challenge. Brody assembles a team of experts, his “project management” team — an experienced and rugged shark hunter and a marine scientist of international renown. Together, they load the boat with the best equipment, the best intentions, a whole lot of confidence, and high expectations. And then, they come face to face with the Great White for the first time.
Shocked and absolutely stunned at the size of the “mega” shark and the magnitude of the actual “mega task” . . . Sheriff Brody reassesses the situation with the oft-quoted line, “We’re going to need a bigger boat.”
Learning that you underestimated the magnitude of the task after the boat has set sail is the wrong time to make such a discovery. I’ve felt like that during my career and I don’t want it to happen again.
MEGA-PROJECTS – GETTING PREPARED
One thing we’ve learned is that mega-projects are a different breed. They are not regular highway projects on a grander scale.
Planning for a mega-project must be different if a highway agency expects to achieve success. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) defines mega-projects as major infrastructure projects that cost more than $1 billion, or projects approaching $1 billion that attract a high level of public attention or political interest.
Seventeen projects are on FHWA’s active mega-projects list and the number is expected to grow to 20 during 2004.
UNDERSTAND THE CHALLENGE
In its 2001 report Major Management Challenges and Program Risks: Department of Transportation, the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) noted, “projects to improve or expand highways can cost hundreds of millions of dollars and pose significant management and logistical challenges.”
Those challenges led GAO to recommend that FHWA improve the management of large-dollar highway projects through more accurate cost estimates and closer tracking of project progress. We adopted those recommendations.
A hallmark of successful projects (of all sizes) is a comprehensive project management plan that serves as a roadmap for the long journey from start to finish. This roadmap is key to on time delivery, within budget, and with high marks from the traveling public.
A PUBLIC JOURNEY – EARNING TRUST
Never forget, we are on a public journey.
Success requires an intense focus on maintaining public trust and confidence throughout the life of the project. In fact, public trust and confidence may be the most important measure of success for any major project.
The public focuses on the transportation community and draws conclusions, deserved or undeserved, about our competence based on their perception of project success. Not only what we do but also how we do it. The mainstays are integrity and openness.
We have to use skills that are not our strong suit. We have to communicate our plans. We must keep the public informed about road closings, detours, and timetables . . . we have to talk to the media. We’re doers, not professional communicators, so this doesn’t come naturally.
Intense national scrutiny by the public, media, and government officials is understandable and inevitable. They are keeping an eye on their investment. Your work as an association of unions focusing on the accountability of taxpayer dollars spent on vital transportation projects is commendable.
President Bush, Secretary Mineta and Administrator Peters are committed to ensuring that the resources entrusted to the Federal government are well managed and wisely used. Accountability is at the core of everything we do at DOT. We owe good stewardship to the customers we serve – the American people.
Working with the Inspector General and with our state partners, we are increasing awareness of fraud activities in the highway program. Clearly, we have a mandate from the American people, and from you — to improve and strengthen oversight and accountability of public funds entrusted to the Department of Transportation.
Public trust and confidence in the transportation sector as a whole may lie in the balance.
Successful projects keep our economy moving. Across the country, your projects are vital to the economic health and quality of life of every community. President Bush. Secretary Mineta, and Administrator Peters know small and large businesses, workers, families and the American economy all depend upon it.
I’m convinced that we have before us the opportunity to complete a responsible six-year transportation bill. And I hope all of us — the transportation community working together — can get it done!