Leading the Charge to Improve Our Failing Infrastructure
As 2009 evolved, the nation's economic difficulties and President Obama's commitment to infrastructure investment as part of a stimulus plan heightened the American people’s interest in the nation’s roads, bridges and water systems. With the debate over the stimulus plan, the Society saw an opportunity for civil engineers to step up and demonstrate leadership, in the best spirit of the "advocacy" plank of ASCE President Klotz's "ABC" platform.
ASCE Influences Stimulus Legislation
On January 28, ASCE released the preliminary findings of the 2009 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure to coincide with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) being debated in Congress. The Report Card showed that the nation’s cumulative infrastructure G.P.A. was again a D, and the total cost to improve the nation’s infrastructure over five years rose from $1.6 trillion in 2005 to $2.2 trillion.
ASCE met with congressional leaders and the Obama Administration to inform them of the findings of the 2009 Report Card. At a town hall meeting in Fort Myers to increase support for the economic recovery package, President Barack Obama mentioned the Report Card and praised it for helping him make the case for improving the nation’s infrastructure. Additionally, ASCE also met with a variety of other advocacy groups to inform them about the Report Card and recruit them to assist in the efforts to improve the nation’s infrastructure.
ASCE also embarked upon a major grassroots lobbying campaign to ensure the timely enactment of an effective and responsible infrastructure stimulus component. ASCE members were kept up to date on all infrastructure stimulus legislative developments through This Week in Washington and the Government Relations blog, Our Failing Infrastructure.
On February 17, 2009, President Obama signed into law the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA).
ASCE continued to engage in advocacy throughout the year, increasing its efforts following the presidential election. Topics included: dam rehabilitation and repair, federal aviation, surface transportation, hazards mitigation, engineering in K-12 education, clean energy, and levee safety.
2009 Report Card for America's Infrastructure Earns Widespread Recognition
In March, ASCE released the full 2009 Report Card and unveiled a new, interactive Report Card website at infrastructurereportcard.org/. The site features videos, an advocacy component, and the entire report to download for free. ASCE's online community: Facebook, blogs, Twitter, Flickr, and YouTube received a significant uptick in participation from the releases in both January and March. The newly designed Report Card website features pathways to and from these social media tools to drive member involvement and heighten public awareness.
ASCE Groups Release State Infrastructure Report Cards
Throughout the year, various Sections worked with ASCE staff to produce state and regional infrastructure Report Cards further detailing the decline of the nation’s infrastructure as it affected their areas. The North Carolina Section updated and re-released their Report Card to have it coincide with the national Report Card. The Colorado, Georgia, Tennessee, Texas, and Maine Sections issued their Report Cards after year-long efforts. The Illinois, South Carolina, Indiana, National Capital, and New York Sections began work on Report Cards for their regions. The Kentucky/Indiana and Virginia Sections were in the final phases of producing their Report Cards. The creation of local Report Cards continues to be a high priority for the Society.
New Set of "Guiding Principles" Aims to Forestall Critical Infrastructure Failures
After a series of major disasters in recent years caused by or precipitated critical infrastructure failures, ASCE and a group of recognized experts led by President Klotz came together to discuss what should be done do to prevent these types of failures in the future. Representing both public and private professionals, they created a set of guidelines that we can share with policymakers and practicing engineers, which was issued as Guiding Principles for the Nation’s Critical Infrastructure. The document was published as well as made available as a free download on the ASCE website.
Also completed and issued in 2009, the ASCE Post-Disaster Assessment Manual provides a new level of consistency and professionalism to how engineering assessments are conducted in the wake of disasters. Work on the formal set of Society procedures began in 2008 under the direction of President David Mongan and the Task Committee on Engineering Review Procedures. The manual is provided free.
In a related development, the Committee on Professional Conduct was able to conclude its work on complaints related to Hurricane Katrina and work done afterward. All complaints were resolved in late spring.
Training Encourages Effective Legislative Outreach
At a national level, ASCE’s ninth annual Legislative Training in Government Relations Fly-In in Washington, D.C. brought together more than 160 members from around the country. Fly-In participants conducted meetings with more than 230 Congressional offices, sharing the message of the new Report Card and other infrastructure needs facing the country. Two intensive Key Contact training sessions were also held, in Portland, Ore., and Chicago. A total of 50 ASCE members participated in the sessions to learn about how to be more effective advocates for civil engineering issues at all levels of government.
Sections in Arizona, California, Colorado, Illinois, Nevada, North Carolina, and Tennessee all hosted or participated in State Legislative Days, days in which members visited their state capitals and met with their state legislators to discuss issues critical to civil engineering.
In addition, Sections from Ohio, Virginia, and South Carolina all hosted legislative receptions where state legislators were invited to come and meet their engineer constituents. The Pennsylvania Sections also started a new Back Home Visits program in which members from that state went and visited with their elected officials in their home district offices.
Engineer's Guide to Public Presentations Prepares Civil Engineers to Speak Out
To help local groups become more effective in their publicity efforts, an Outreach Toolkit was developed by ASCE to facilitate member communication with various external audiences on infrastructure issues and the Report Card. It included easily customizable and dynamic PowerPoint presentations and scripts, supplementary slide decks, handout materials, a copy of the informative videos developed as part of the Report Card campaign and an “Engineer’s Guide to Public Presentations.” The Toolkits were distributed to leaders in all ASCE Sections and Branches at the end of October.
ASCE also offered PR University, a public relations training program designed to educate members on how to promote the profession and expand the reach of national ASCE projects and programs. Now in its second year, PR University’s one day seminar increased the local advocacy skills of more than 150 participants, and included a take-home PR toolkit loaded with in-depth information on how to conduct public relations at the section or branch level.