Harsh Tiwari, Fiscal Policy Contributor
America has a clear infrastructure problem. In this series on fixing America’s crumbling infrastructure, I have explored the need to fix both our transportation and our energy infrastructure. In this final part, I aim to explore a type of infrastructure that may not be very tangible, but arguably the most important.
The demanding, prominent, and new area of infrastructure which requires investment is that of technology. As Forbes reports, “[c]ut the red tape!” is a frequent battle cry of those hoping to release pent-up economic activity. While President Trump and Congress will undoubtedly spend time scrutinizing regulations themselves, they should start by looking to the underlying technology we use to administer our regulations. Important work has already been done to make government more efficient, user-friendly, transparent, and secure — we know it’s needed, and we have got bipartisan consensus on it. There is a great need for better and extremely smart use of technology in governance to ensure its effective functioning whilst maintaining a streamlined size.
One of the potential areas in which technology can be used to great effect, as suggested by Sen. Dan Sullivan, is the creation of a one-stop shop online portal for submissions and processing of regulatory permits. This would be a remarkable advancement as it would mean that businesses in order to get regulatory approvals will have to apply for permits using a single online portal rather than go through the delays and bottlenecks of getting permits from different departments respectively. It would streamline the awarding of regulatory permits to companies whilst simplyfing the process of regulatory approvals.
Trump has been insistent on making government “pro-people” and much more efficient.The delivery of services by the government is another key area where such investment in technology will reap massive benefits. The Obama administration was also cognizant of the need to keep government in pace with the times and had instituted the USDS and 18F to bring government and modern technology together whilst creating online permitting dashboards. The work of these agencies needs to be intensified by Trump with greater financial grants and investment in implementing their suggestions.
There are obvious benefits to streamlining the process of regulatory permits and government services. Faster regulatory approval will mean faster economic growth, and combined with the executive order that requires rollback of two old regulations for the creation of a new one, it will also mean greater economic growth. Provision of government services online will mean faster and better delivery of such services. Additionally, these upgraded services will provide enhanced grievance-redressal mechanisms and much better assessment of the impact of such services.
There is a growing threat to cyber-security posed by countries such as North Korea, China, and now potentially Russia (after the Syrian bombing).. In fact, as the Pacific Standard reports: “the federal government alone will spend $18 billion on cybersecurity. And none of that counts the human toll from cyber-enabled crimes like child pornography and human and sex trafficking.” Investment in cybersecurity is a necessity in order to ensure the security of American intelligence and trade secrets. This is not only because of the security threats that are posed to American cybersecurity but also because an expansion in online governance will require greater security infrastructure to prevent hackers from destroying extremely essential government data and foiling the advancement of e-government
The investment in regulatory technology will also indirectly create more jobs as companies will find it easier to invest in the economy and undertake new projects. It will also mean that Trump’s investments in other areas come to fruition faster and the economy will be jump-started on a large-scale basis. An investment in governance technology will have bipartisan support. As Forbes reports, utilizing technology to help government regulatory processes work more efficiently is something both sides can more easily agree upon. Case in point, it’s a stance that Newt Gingrich--one of the president’s biggest supporters--and Lt. Governor of California Gavin Newsom--one of his most vocal opponents--have in common.
If government is to move online, then it is extremely necessary that citizens do so too lest the benefits of new regulatory technology not reach those who need it most. In fact, the chairman of the FCC has already proposed solutions to improve the provision of broadband services. The agriculture industry is one that has been kept away from broadband, and, as the Daily Herald reports, billions have been wasted by the Department of Agriculture's Rural Utility Service. The RUS had promised to connect 7 million Americans and only close to 200,000 have been connected. Trump, in order to ensure that the benefits of online government services and plans reach rural Americans, needs to provide rural America with newer technology. The provision of better technology to rural Americans will mean that the enhancement in governance technology has the desired effects. It will also mean greater access to information for rural Americans which will help expand small-scale business and improve agricultural innovation. The increase in connectivity with rural America will also allow for speedy communication and lead to an expansion in agro-based industries.
Trump’s promise to invest in American infrastructure is a genuine one, but such a promise needs to be backed by extensive planning, regulatory overhaul, and clear benchmarks in both the short term and long term. Trump’s plan is not expected to face stiff Congressional opposition and may in many areas invite enthusiastic bipartisan support but he neds to invest effort to lobby Congress for support. Trump’s infrastructure plan is ambitious and bold, and even if plagued by problems its implementation, can be expected to be productive. Its success can truly ensure that America is great again and I hope that Trump, in humble realisation of that, will see fit to do whatever is necessary to formulate and implement plan well.
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