It’s a damning report because it says America has endangered itself by allowing both its manufacturing sector and its infrastructure – like dams, roads and bridges -- to deteriorate.
The report, Preparing for 21st Century Risks, issued by the Alliance for American Manufacturing last week, recommends a two-part solution. First is restoring America’s infrastructure lifelines: its electrical grid, its public water and sewer systems, its railroads and dams. And second is doing it with American-manufactured steel and concrete, glass and aluminum – all American components and all American labor.
The result would be a nation more capable of fending off and recovering from natural and man-made disasters. And it would be a nation with a stronger economy based on a solid manufacturing base.
The Preparedness report was written by two security experts. One is Tom Ridge, the former Republican governor of Pennsylvania and first Assistant to the U.S. President for Homeland Security. The other is Robert B. Stephan, a former Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security for Infrastructure Protection.
It discusses the danger of America’s increasing dependence on foreign-made materials and supplies and concludes:
“The American way of life is dependent upon a vibrant economy, the existence of which is based upon a skilled work force, innovation and a world-class critical infrastructure. Much of this critical infrastructure is vulnerable to attack, catastrophic weather events and obsolescence and deterioration. Immediate national security, preparedness and economic needs require an equally strong domestic manufacturing base which, for many reasons, has eroded over the years.”
Risks noted in the report, such as this year’s devastating forest fires and nearly nationwide drought, in addition to the constant threat of terrorism, coincidentally were echoed twice in New York Times stories last week.
The first story described infrastructure problems caused by triple-digit heat, difficulties that are expected to continue with sustained extreme weather. They included excessive temperatures in nuclear plant cooling pools, a train derailed by heat-kinked track and a taxiing jet mired in melted asphalt.
A second Times story revealed a 17-fold increase in cyber-attacks on U.S. infrastructure – including public water systems and cell phone networks -- since 2009. Among the suspects are foreign nations.
The Preparedness report warns of depending on foreign sources for recovery:
“. . .we can no longer rely on global suppliers – many of whom may not have our best interests at heart at a time of crisis. . .or come to our rescue in the midst of an emergency.”
Critical to both psychological and physical recovery, it says:
“is a robust, diverse and resilient domestic manufacturing sector. In fact, there is a direct nexus between a strong domestic manufacturing sector and America’s ability to prevent, mitigate, recover from and rebuild quickly in the wake of catastrophic events.”
Ridge and Stephan devoted a whole section of the Preparedness report to the threats to dams and the nation’s water supply. These are vulnerable to both natural and terrorist-caused disasters. And they’re already in poor shape, receiving a D grade in a review by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). Dams, the ASCE said, need more than $50 billion in repairs.
Refurbishing those dams and installing some anti-terrorism measures could provide significant employment, which would improve the American economy. That’s what happened with construction of the Hoover Dam beginning in 1931 during the Great Depression. For five years, the massive project employed thousands of workers desperate for jobs. Their labor has provided drinking and irrigation water and electricity to three states for three quarters of a century.
The Preparedness report notes, however, that because of the decline of American manufacturing, caused in large part by foreign competitors violating international trade regulations, some key components to build and repair dams and water systems are made almost exclusively overseas. The report says:
“Clearly, the extent of these offshore dependencies puts us in a much weakened position regarding overall water sector preparedness . . . In the aftermath of a disaster, we must do everything we can to get these critical systems back on line in safe fashion as quickly as possible. Again, a strong domestic manufacturing capacity comprises an extremely important part of this approach.”
Republicans have stalled infrastructure construction and repair and ignored the nation’s manufacturing decline. Their excuse is the deficit. That’s contrary to the successful actions the nation took during the Great Depression, including construction of the Hoover Dam, which provided jobs and stimulated economic development in Nevada, California and Arizona.
The ASCE recommended in 2009 that the nation invest $2.2 trillion to repair critical infrastructure. Americans want that work, with unemployment stuck at 8.2 percent. And America needs that economic development, with the economy growing at a paltry 1.5 percent in the second quarter.
It’s never been cheaper for America to raise that money. Right now, as Nobel-prize-winning economist Paul Krugman points out, government bonds are paying minus .6 percent, meaning Americans will pay back less in interest and principal, adjusted for inflation, than investors put in.
It’s easy for Congress to show it gives a damn about American security, the American economy and American manufacturing. All it takes is a vote to secure and upgrade a dam. And, you know, the rest of the nation’s infrastructure.