Category Archives: Infrastructure

Cracks in Sidewalk Labs’ Toronto waterfront plan after fanfare

Source: Jeff Gray, The Globe and Mail, February 23, 2018

… Sidewalk Labs, the unit of Google parent Alphabet Inc. selected to help transform a parcel of land known as Quayside, at the foot of Parliament Street, listed off a dizzying array of technologies it could develop in Canada’s largest city, then sell elsewhere: cameras and sensors that detect pedestrians at traffic lights or alert cleanup crews when garbage bins overflow; robotic vehicles that whisk away garbage in underground tunnels; heated bike lanes to melt snow; even a new street layout to accommodate a fleet of self-driving cars. Four months have passed since Waterfront Toronto, the municipal-provincial-federal development agency, named Sidewalk its “innovation and funding partner” for the project – time enough for some of the gee-whiz talk of hyper-energy-efficient modular buildings and “taxibots” to be replaced by a rising chorus of critics both inside and outside City Hall. Many are concerned about the data Sidewalk could collect. Some say the deal has been shrouded in secrecy. Others fear the company’s vague but sweeping plans could threaten the city’s authority over a massive swath of waterfront or even its public transit system and other key services. … Meanwhile, despite briefings from Waterfront Toronto and Sidewalk executives, some city councillors say they still have little idea what Sidewalk actually intends to do – or where. …

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Beware Of Google’s Intentions
Source: Susan Crawford, Wired, February 1, 2018

In partnering with local governments to create infrastructure, Alphabet says it is only trying to help. Local governments shouldn’t believe it. ….. Beginning last fall, Toronto has been getting a flood of publicity about a deal with Sidewalk Labs, part of Google spinoff Alphabet. Reports describe the deal as giving Sidewalk the authority to build in an undeveloped 12-acre portion of the city called Quayside. The idea is that Sidewalk will collect data about everything from water use to air quality to the perambulations of Quayside’s future populace and use that data to run energy, transport, and all other systems. Swarms of sensors inside and outside buildings and on streets will be constantly on duty, monitoring and modulating.

But Toronto recently revealed that deal has put it in a tough place. A nonprofit development corporation, not the city, made the arrangement with Google that sparked all the publicity—the city itself doesn’t appear to have known a deal with Google was in the works. Now the situation appears messy: The details of the arrangement are not public, the planning process is being paid for by Google, and Google won’t continue funding that process unless government authorities promise they’ll reach a final agreement that aligns with Google’s interests. Those interests include Google’s desire to expand its Toronto experiments beyond that 12-acre Quayside plot.….

Trump’s Infrastructure Plan Could Destroy Our Nation’s Water Systems

Source: Michelle Chen, The Nation, January 30, 2018
 
The draft outline of the zombie infrastructure program has resurfaced again with a leak to Axios—and confirms what many feared: The White House hopes to privatize areas of government at a discount, opening up more public services to abuse at the hands of corporations. Trump plans to expand private-activity bonds for infrastructure construction, “to benefit the public,” with a definition of “public benefit” that’s more solid-gold toilet than Hoover Dam. Exhibit A is the plan to expand private management of our waterways, including efforts to mitigate pollution and environmental harm that tends to result from the same private-sector control. In other words, laundering public money to help corporate America break stuff and then buy it. There’s a heavy focus on funding privately managed road and bridge projects, and goodies like highway-rest-stop commercialization and encouraging private leasing of infrastructure. …

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Cashing in on Water Crises: Public-Private Partnerships Are Not the Solution
Source: Julia Kassem, Truthout, January 13, 2018

Across the US, cost-cutting municipalities are looking to private companies and contractors to fix aging infrastructure. However, these privatization practices contribute to increased water bills and jeopardize water quality, endangering one of residents’ most basic needs. We can gain some perspective on the consequences of water privatization by looking to a glaring overseas example: In Lebanon, mismanagement of infrastructure has provided ample opportunity for privatization to proliferate. … The International Finance Corporation (IFC), the privatizing wing of the World Bank Group, continues to invest in water privatization companies such as Veolia, and more recently, SUEZ. The companies are setting their sights on ailing infrastructural systems in the Global South in places like the Arab world, particularly in response to the abandonment of public-private contracts in some large US cities. … In Lebanon and around the world, the basic issues of water quality and safety must find a place in policy-oriented discussions over water. If this occurs, countries and municipalities stand a chance of eschewing private-public partnerships — and ensuring that water is not treated as simply another commodity to be sold.

$300 Billion War Beneath the Street: Fighting to Replace America’s Water Pipes
Source: Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times, November 10, 2017
 
America is facing a crisis over its crumbling water infrastructure, and fixing it will be a monumental and expensive task.  Two powerful industries, plastic and iron, are locked in a lobbying war over the estimated $300 billion that local governments will spend on water and sewer pipes over the next decade. … To more directly reach towns and counties across the country, the plastics industry is also leaning on the American City County Exchange, a new group that gives corporations extraordinary capacity to influence public policy at the city and county levels. The group operates under the auspices of the American Legislative Exchange Council, a wider effort funded by the petrochemicals billionaires Charles G. and David H. Koch that has drawn scrutiny for helping corporations and local politicians write legislation behind closed doors. …

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Federal Fraud Recoveries Decline in Fiscal Year 2017

Source: Project on Government Oversight, January 2, 2018

… The DOJ announced it had recouped $3.7 billion through settlements and judgments in False Claims Act cases in fiscal year 2017. This amount is nearly 23 percent lower than the previous fiscal year, but roughly in line with FY 2015’s total. This seems to be a trend: a historical analysis of DOJ’s fraud recoveries since 1986 (the year Congress substantially strengthened the False Claims Act) shows that, in recent years, a substantial drop-off occurs in non-election years. … As in past years, the largest share of the recoveries—about two-thirds—involved health care fraud. But a substantial sum also came from some of Uncle Sam’s largest contractors:

  • AECOM and Bechtel: $125 million to settle False Claims Act allegations that the contractors charged the government for deficient materials and services at the Hanford Nuclear Site. Separately, AECOM paid over $5.2 million to settle another fraud investigation involving its work at Hanford.
  • Agility: $95 million to settle a 12-year-old case accusing the company of overcharging the government for food supplied to U.S. troops in the Middle East.
  • Atlantic Diving Supply: $16 million for allegedly inducing the government to award small business contracts to companies misrepresenting their eligibility as socially or economically disadvantaged small businesses.
  • Huntington Ingalls Industries: $9.2 million to resolve claims of overbilling the government for work at its Mississippi shipyards.
  • Pacific Architects and Engineers: $5 million to settle allegations that it failed to properly screen and oversee personnel working on a contract to train Afghan security forces.
  • Sierra Nevada Corporation: $14.9 million for allegedly causing the government to pay inflated labor costs on contracts.
  • Defense contractors accounted for $220 million in fraud settlements and judgments.

The Privatization Agenda Goes Bust

Source: Tom O’Leary, Jacobin, January 18, 2018

The collapse of Carillion, the mammoth UK government contractor that went bankrupt Monday, was wholly made in Britain, although it has negative consequences internationally. The reason for Carillion’s bankruptcy, which puts vital public services and thousands of jobs at risk, is that the firm and its component companies grew fat during the first phase of neoliberal economic policy and could not cope with the more recent phase, austerity. The immediate cause of the collapse is a failed acquisition spree since the crisis began. Yet the underlying cause is the disastrous relationship successive governments have had with the private sector. Whether the Thatcher, Major, and Blair governments believed the nonsense they spouted about the superior efficiency of the private sector is immaterial. Only the willfully ignorant could ignore the litany of failed privatizations and the extortion of PFI “public-private initiative” contracts that followed their policies. The real purpose of Thatcherite economic policy, which has become widely known as neoliberalism, was precisely to hand state resources and revenues to the private sector. …

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Carillion directors to be investigated
Source: BBC, January 16, 2018

The government has ordered a fast-track investigation into directors at the failed construction firm Carillion. The UK’s second biggest construction firm went into liquidation on Monday, after running up losses on contracts and struggling with heavy debts. The business secretary has asked for an investigation by the Official Receiver to be broadened and fast-tracked. The conduct of directors in charge at the time of the company’s failure and previous directors will be examined. Carillion’s business is now in the hands of the official receiver, which is reviewing all of Carillion’s contracts. The company employed 43,000 people worldwide, 20,000 in the UK, and had 450 contracts with the UK government. …

Carillion’s Government contracts could have been stopped by a single law. Why wasn’t it used?
Source: Hazel Sheffield, Independent, January 16, 2018

Carillion is part of what is known as ‘the shadow state’: a group of large companies secretively awarded government contracts to run Britain’s public services. There are others. …

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Why Virginia Drivers Are Paying a $35 Toll to Drive Into Washington, D.C.

Source: Henry Grabar, Slate, December 7, 2017

Starting Monday, if you want to drive peak-direction on I-66 inside the Beltway, you have two choices: Find a passenger or pay a toll that has soared as high as $40 this week. It is a peek at the future of driving (and more), in which dynamic pricing will offer access to scarce resources. And it made people very, very angry. … It’s one instance in a wave of new dynamic-toll experiments in Virginia and elsewhere. Reluctant Republicans had made a deal with Gov. Terry McAuliffe to allow I-66 tolling in exchange for widening the highway. Now, they say the rates are “unacceptable” and the timing (after the gubernatorial election) suspicious, and they have called on governor-elect Ralph Northam to clean up the mess. But without a paradigm shift in infrastructure spending, a big, thriving city cannot maintain the delicate balance between moving traffic, well-maintained roads, and cheap commuting for solo drivers. … Toll roads have long been a popular choice for public-private partnerships (and with mixed results). But they’ve crept onto interstates too, thanks to congressional carve-outs that allow tolling to add capacity or make bridge repairs. Trump’s infrastructure white paper called for legalizing the tolling of interstates across the board. … This is good news insofar as it hastens the demise of our wasteful, expensive, and environmentally damaging transportation model. … But this trend also poses thorny questions as the culture of the long commute changes. Once the burden of wealthy suburbanites who had fled the city, long car commutes—especially in high-cost metro areas with lots of traffic congestion—are now just as likely to be associated with service workers exiled from central housing markets or others chasing far-flung employment centers. In most cases, that also means they’ve been denied access to mass transit commutes. …

HUD Secretary Carson launches centers to drive households to self-efficiency

Source: Kelsey Ramírez, Housing Wire, December 7, 2017

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson announced a new initiative to help HUD-assisted families achieve self-efficiency. Carson announced HUD will launch its new EnVision Centers, which will be located on or near public housing developments. HUD explained these centers will be hubs for what it calls the four key pillars of self-sufficiency: character and leadership, educational advancement, economic empowerment and health and wellness. The centers will form partnerships with federal agencies, state and local governments, non-profits, faith-based organizations, corporations, public housing authorities and housing finance agencies. EnVision Centers will utilize public-private resources to impact the community. … Carson previously explained his vision to HousingWire in an exclusive interview with Editor-In-Chief Jacob Gaffney, who wrote: One of Carson’s main initiatives is establishing “envision centers” of learning, especially for teenage mothers who, more often than not, end their educational trajectory once they give birth. New York City is seen as a potential spot for one of the first such centers where young, low-income parents can access day care while learning to code and “balance a checkbook or unclog a toilet,” the secretary told me. … HUD will start by launching ten pilot EnVision Centers across the U.S. …

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America’s public housing crisis may worsen with Trump budget
Source: Lawrence Vale, Associated Press, July 12, 2017
 
… As someone who has spent 25 years researching and writing about the travails of public housing in the U.S., I had this immediate thought: Could the same thing happen here?  Various commentators have pointed out that American regulations require sprinklers and do not permit the use of cladding materials with combustible plastic cores in high-rise structures.  Yet while the facades of American public housing may be less flammable, the system suffers from a toxic convergence of long-deferred maintenance, squeezed budgets and cost-cutting measures. Privatization policies, deeply rooted suspicions about the character of public housing residents and long-term inattention all threaten the capacity of stigmatized low-income families to remain in their homes. …

Ben Carson reckons with proposed HUD budget cuts
Source: Jonathan Easley, The Hill, June 30, 2017

… Now, as HUD secretary, Carson controls the $46 billion government agency that oversees housing for the poor. President Trump’s proposed 2018 budget would cut HUD spending by $6 billion. “We will use whatever resources we have very efficiently,” Carson said. “The other thing to keep in mind is that the traditional view of HUD and government is we ride in on a white horse with a bucket of money … and go off to the next thing,” he continued. “That particular model has led us to the point where we have three to four times as many people in need of affordable housing and it’s getting worse.” Carson, who had no experience in government before becoming HUD secretary, is grappling with decisions about which programs to keep, which to shutter, and how to improve the ones that remain. …

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Whitefish stops work on Puerto Rico power grid over payment dispute

Source: Brandon Carter, The Hill, November 20, 2017
 
Whitefish Energy, which is under scrutiny over how it was selected for work in Puerto Rico, is halting its efforts on the island’s power grid because it says the local power authority owes it millions of dollars.  In an interview with CNN published Monday, Whitefish CEO Andy Techmanski said the company is owed more than $83 million by the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) and is stopping work because its repeated requests for payment were not fulfilled.  “We stopped because of the financial situation, lack of payment with PREPA has gotten beyond its maximum threshold and what we can sustain as a business,” Techmankski said.  The company’s CEO said that it has employed more than 500 contractors and subcontractors on its work to restore the island’s power grid following the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria. …

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Ricardo Ramos, embattled head of Puerto Rico’s power utility, resigns
Source: Phil McCausland, NBC News, November 17, 2017
 
The embattled head of Puerto Rico’s power utility resigned on Friday, the latest controversy to hit the island as it struggles to bring its electric grid back online. Ricardo Ramos, the executive director of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Agency, submitted his resignation to Puerto Rico’s governor’s office only a few days after he testified before the Senate Energy and Natural Resource Committee over the controversial contract he approved with Whitefish Energy Holdings, a small Montana firm to rebuild Puerto Rico’s electric grid.  A few hours after Ramos resigned, Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló recommended the appointment of engineer Justo González as interim director of the public utility.

After Doomed Whitefish Deal, Puerto Rico Asks Congress for $94 Billion
Source: Frances Robles, New York Times, November 14, 2017

The governor of Puerto Rico and the chief executive of its beleaguered electric company faced hours of questioning on Tuesday in Congress, where skeptical legislators questioned whether to give the island an enormous aid package on the heels of a botched high-priced contract to fix its power grid.
Gov. Ricardo A. Rosselló came to Senate and House committees with a huge ask: $94.4 billion to help Puerto Rico “build back better” after Hurricane Maria destroyed or damaged 472,000 homes and knocked out the island’s electricity. He also said that Puerto Rico should have more authority over its own fiscal affairs, and that he had “zero role” in awarding a highly criticized $300 million deal to a small Montana firm to help restore power. …

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New York’s prevailing wage law: A cost-benefit analysis

Source: Russell Ormiston, Dale Belman, and Matt Hinkel, Economic Policy Institute, November 1, 2017

… State prevailing wage laws across the country have increasingly been assailed by those who appeal to lawmakers’ other responsibility—minimizing taxpayer costs—in an attempt to weaken or repeal these policies. These nationwide campaigns are built almost entirely upon a single argument: higher wages must equate to higher taxpayer costs. … And with a recent publication by the Empire Center (McMahon and Gardner 2017), it has become apparent that some in New York will attempt to pitch the same narrative to state lawmakers. There’s one problem. According to the most advanced economic research on state prevailing wage laws, the simple narrative largely isn’t true.

To separate fact from fiction as it relates to New York’s prevailing wage law, this report provides a thorough cost-benefit analysis of state policy relying extensively on independent, peer-reviewed research. As summarized in this report, academic economists from around the country have made prevailing wage laws a research priority over the last 15 years. In study after study, economists have found no evidence that these laws have had any significant cost effects on the biggest drivers of New York’s capital budget: highways and institutional buildings (e.g., schools). …

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New Orleans’ summer of floods revives the threat of privatization

Source: Aviva Shen, ThinkProgress, October 20, 2017
 
This year’s spate of floods prompted sudden scrutiny of the city’s long-neglected infrastructure, but everyone knows the system is not fully prepared to manage the city’s regular downpours. … After the August flooding, the Sewerage and Water Board admitted that at least 14 of the pumps that constantly churn water out of the ground had been offline. Outrage erupted. Several board officials resigned in political sacrifice, and Mayor Mitch Landrieu (D) called for a private company to intervene and potentially take over the agency. … Private firms Veolia and CH2M quickly snapped up no-bid contracts to analyze New Orleans’ systemic failures after the August flood, stoking suspicion that the mayor would quietly transfer power over the water systems to for-profit companies. CH2M and its subcontractors have been tasked with servicing turbines that power the city’s pumps and finding back-up power sources. Veolia, which already manages part of the city’s wastewater system and its entire mass transit system, has been authorized not only to analyze the failings of the stormwater system but to “start taking the right steps to any necessary maintenance efforts.” The cost of fulfilling these contracts is still unclear…..

KC Council picks Edgemoor team for KCI terminal job

Source: Rob Roberts, Kansas City Business Journal, September 21, 2017

A joint meeting of two Kansas City Council committees voted Thursday in favor of selecting a team led by Edgemoor Infrastructure & Real Estate LLC to design, develop and arrange financing for a new airport terminal. … The committee’s decision comes after heavy lobbying and criticism by two other teams pursuing the roughly $1 billion project. … The airport ordinance calls for the city manager to begin negotiating a memorandum of understanding with Edgemoor. At the request of Councilman Jermaine Reed, it also spells out components of a community benefits agreement that must be part of the MOU, requires Edgemoor to institute a local hiring preference and requires negotiation of minority- and women-owned business and workforce participation goals that recognize “the transformative possibilities for disadvantaged businesses and workers that can result from a public infrastructure project of the magnitude of the proposed terminal modernization project.” …