APPENDIX B
THE BRB/CETS/NRC STRATEGIC PROGRAM IN INFRASTRUCTURE

The Building Research Board (BRB), Transportation Research Board, Water Science and Technology Board, Marine Board, Board on Telecommunications and Computer Applications, and other units of the academy complex20 have long been involved in studies and research related to infrastructure. Much of this work has focused on particular modes of infrastructure or stages of the service delivery process (e.g., construction), but several studies have aimed to contribute directly to the national discussion of infrastructure systems (see, for example, Ausubel and Herman, 1988). The NRC provided advice to the National Council on Public Works Improvement on matters of technological innovation (NRC, 1987), in the process contributing to the development of a concise definition of ''infrastructure'' that has subsequently gained some support in professional and policy circles.21

THE ACADEMY'S STRATEGIC PROGRAM

Participants in these various NRC activities, particularly members and staff of BRB and its parent unit, the Commission on Engineering and Technical Systems (CETS), began to develop the view that the dearth of consensus or action on infrastructure problems—underinvestment, inadequate maintenance,

20  

The National Research Council and its parent bodies, the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine.

21  

For example, the report was one of the first to focus on infrastructure as a stream of services as well as constructed facilities.



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In Our Own Backyard: Principles for Effective Improvement of the Nation's Infrastructure APPENDIX B THE BRB/CETS/NRC STRATEGIC PROGRAM IN INFRASTRUCTURE The Building Research Board (BRB), Transportation Research Board, Water Science and Technology Board, Marine Board, Board on Telecommunications and Computer Applications, and other units of the academy complex20 have long been involved in studies and research related to infrastructure. Much of this work has focused on particular modes of infrastructure or stages of the service delivery process (e.g., construction), but several studies have aimed to contribute directly to the national discussion of infrastructure systems (see, for example, Ausubel and Herman, 1988). The NRC provided advice to the National Council on Public Works Improvement on matters of technological innovation (NRC, 1987), in the process contributing to the development of a concise definition of ''infrastructure'' that has subsequently gained some support in professional and policy circles.21 THE ACADEMY'S STRATEGIC PROGRAM Participants in these various NRC activities, particularly members and staff of BRB and its parent unit, the Commission on Engineering and Technical Systems (CETS), began to develop the view that the dearth of consensus or action on infrastructure problems—underinvestment, inadequate maintenance, 20   The National Research Council and its parent bodies, the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine. 21   For example, the report was one of the first to focus on infrastructure as a stream of services as well as constructed facilities.

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In Our Own Backyard: Principles for Effective Improvement of the Nation's Infrastructure lagging technological progress—may be attributed to the public's lack of understanding that the problems exist, that increased attention is warranted by benefits to be gained in relation to other societal needs, and that progress is possible. In this case, NRC observers reasoned, those concerned about the future of the nation's infrastructure need new ideas and ways to overcome the institutional and social barriers to improvements in infrastructure. CETS undertook in 1988 to formulate a strategic program to foster such new ideas and ways of presenting those ideas. The director and several members of the BRB were assigned responsibility for formulating the program, and subsequently for the program's continuity and leadership. An essential early step was to create simultaneously a visible institutional focus on infrastructure within the academy and a forum to bring together a broad constituency for the program's results. The program was envisioned to address directly both topics related to particular infrastructures and cross-cutting topics not within the scope of current academy activities. For topics related to particular infrastructures within the purview of current academy activities, the program would foster a broad multidisciplinary outlook but would draw primarily on the resources of existing units within the academy complex. The program as a whole would provide a framework and strategic direction for specific individual activities to be undertaken on a stand-alone basis. Each such activity would be defined through planning within the BRB or other units, perhaps with the participation of a larger group of volunteers and potential sponsors. Sponsorship of symposia, colloquia, committee studies, or other activities would then solicited for each specific activity after approval by the NRC Governing Board. On this basis, the BRB held a planning meeting in November 1988 in Washington, D.C., which involved staff and members of CETS, BRB, and the other NRC units with major interests related to infrastructure. Besides confirming and extending the initial strategy, this meeting yielded a sharper description of how the NRC might effectively enhance the national infrastructure policy debate: a series of colloquia on specific infrastructure topics would increase the program's exposure and motivate further activities within the NRC and elsewhere. The meeting's participants developed a preliminary listing of specific topic areas on which the CETS/BRB efforts might focus, and identified staff liaisons between the BRB and other interested units within the academy, as well as outside agencies. A meeting in Cambridge, Massachusetts in September 1989 brought together BRB staff and volunteers and representatives of several federal agencies interested in the program. The participants produced a more detailed definition of promising colloquium topics, including two topics identified as having high priority: (1) facility monitoring and nondestructive evaluation for infrastructure management, and (2) Progress and consequences of large-scale infrastructure deterioration and failure. These results became the basis for a prospectus,

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In Our Own Backyard: Principles for Effective Improvement of the Nation's Infrastructure approved by the NRC Governing Board in December 1989, for a colloquium series planned for a three-year period. The lack of clear and comprehensive federal agency responsibility for infrastructure combined with growing budgetary constraints to limit drastically the willingness of potential sponsors to make commitments to the program. By early 1991, BRB had received only a fraction of the support solicited for the colloquium series; this support came from the National Science Foundation and the Department of the Army. However, judging that further delay would severely threaten the strategic program's potential for positive impact, the BRB decided to proceed with the colloquium series. The Committee on Infrastructure, appointed to direct the series and advise on the overall program, held its first meeting on May 23 and 24, 1991. SCOPE OF THE PRESENT STUDY As initially defined, the series of colloquia was designed to address topics of immediate interest, substantial payoff in terms of motivating improvements in the nation's infrastructure, and long-term relevance. Each colloquium was meant to serve as a vehicle for motivating further research and action on the topics covered, by bringing together institutions and ideas, and focusing attention on needs, opportunities, and barriers to progress in infrastructure. In its initial discussions, the committee determined that the topics designated for initial colloquia were unlikely to be very effective in achieving the underlying goals of the program. Reasserting that infrastructure has strategic national importance but that it is nevertheless essentially a local problem, the committee decided that a series of three regional colloquia should be held to explore the elements of success experienced by local governments in addressing their infrastructure problems. This marked an important departure from the approach pursued in most earlier studies of infrastructure. These earlier studies had focused primarily on one or more models of infrastructure (e.g., highways, water supply). The committee chose instead to focus on infrastructure as a multimodal system within a region. By comparing how this system has been managed several regions, the committee hoped to gain new insights into the principles and strategies for more effective management of the nation's infrastructure. The committee concluded that its greatest contribution would be in identifying and describing common and transferable principles and strategies that can be applied in other regions, taking into account both short- and long-term perspectives and possible alternative patterns of future urban development and technology. That conclusion is the source of this report.

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In Our Own Backyard: Principles for Effective Improvement of the Nation's Infrastructure OTHER STUDIES In developing its 1988 report Fragile Foundations, the National Council on Public Works Improvement found that none of the various measures available gives a clear, comprehensive, and convincing picture of the status of the nation's infrastructure (NCPWI, 1988). In this, the council echoed the concerns of an earlier body whose 1984 report Hard Choices had questioned at length the widely used concept of measurable "need" for infrastructure. These studies exemplify a growing awareness among professionals and policymakers that the ways performance of infrastructures is characterized and the standards used to judge whether performance is acceptable have far-reaching but poorly understood consequences for how problems are perceived and what solutions appear reasonable. As a part of its efforts to explore appropriate elements of future federal government roles in infrastructure development and management, the Army Corps of Engineers, Institute for Water Resources, undertook (in the early 1990s) to identify and address key issues of infrastructure performance and its cost-effective achievement. Institute staff asked the BRB to plan a colloquium on the topic, with a twofold objective: (1) to develop a list of key issues related to the definition, measurement, and achievement of cost-effective infrastructure performance, and (2) to delineate the principal areas to be explored in addressing these issues in a subsequent NRC study, such as data needs, problems of measurement, problems of institutional structure, and others. Discussions in the colloquium and subsequent study activities will be restricted to issues arising from infrastructure within urban regions. These activities commenced in 1993 and are scheduled to be completed early in 1995. Recognizing that enhancing the science and technology of infrastructure systems can make a substantial contribution to the nation's productivity and quality of life, National Science Foundation (NSF) undertook (in late 1992) to define new programs for research in these areas. The NSFs Division of Mechanical and Structural Systems of the Directorate of Engineering asked the BRB, in cooperation with the Geotechnical Board, to undertake a study to define the state-of-the-art, basic research needs and priorities related to the structures, geomechanics, and building systems of infrastructure. The resulting research agenda will present high-priority opportunities that may be used by the National Science Foundation and the research community to guide basic infrastructure core research, targeted ultimately to provide lessons of cross-cutting value for effective infrastructure development and management. The study is focused on fundamental underpinnings of physical infrastructure technology, but it will be shaped by the broad national policy debate reflected in such reports as those by the National Council on Public Works Improvement and others already mentioned. The study will also build

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In Our Own Backyard: Principles for Effective Improvement of the Nation's Infrastructure on other infrastructure research agenda-setting efforts, including work by organizations such as the Civil Engineering Research Foundation's "National Civil Engineering Research Needs Forum" and the International Society for Arboriculture's "National Research Agenda for Urban Forestry in the 1990s." THE PROGRAM'S FUTURE Other activities are being developed within the framework of this strategic program. "Education for Stewardship" refers broadly to several proposals that changes in education are needed, both at the professional level and in primary and secondary schools, to foster more effective interdisciplinary development and management of infrastructure systems and broader appreciation of the important role of infrastructure as a public asset. "Toward Urban Ecostructure" refers to the application of environmentally friendly or advantageous technologies in providing the facilities and services of infrastructure. The program's achievements to date and a growing level of interest in federal roles in the nation's infrastructure suggest that a more permanent forum for review and discussion of infrastructure may be warranted. CETS members are considering a range of alternative activities that will advance the discussion of infrastructure and action to deal with issues of infrastructure facing the United States. REFERENCES Ausubel, J.H., and Herman, R., ed. 1988. Cities and Their Vital Systems: Infrastructure Past, Present, and Future, Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press. NCPWI (National Council on Public Works Improvement). 1988. Fragile Foundations: A Report on America's Public Works . Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office. NIAC (National Infrastructure Advisory Committee). 1984. Hard Choices. Report to the Joint Economic Committee of the U.S. Congress. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office. NRC (National Research Council). 1987. Infrastructure for the 21st Century: Framework for a Research Agenda, Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.