Responsibility for these systems is primarily a local matter, with some 80 percent of the annual investment in infrastructure coming from local and state government sources or private enterprises, but the federal government's influence on infrastructure development and management is much greater than its 20 percent share suggests. In addition to the many federal programs that provide funds for such purposes as purchasing public transit buses, building sewage treatment plants, and dredging harbors, other programs set standards for water and air purity, control the nation's airways, monitor public health, and otherwise seek to ensure the safety and efficacy of infrastructure. Yet despite these many programs and regulatory activities, there currently is no integrated federal policy toward infrastructure as a whole, although integration within modes has increased in recent years.
Many people assert that such a policy is needed because government below the federal level is unable to deal effectively with the issues of urban development and infrastructure. More than three-quarters of the nation's population now resides in metropolitan areas, and these urban agglomerations account for a major share of our economic output. Within each metropolitan area, myriad local government bodies hold limited authority and often compete for development and tax revenues. Most state governments must contend with the concerns of rural interests as well as several metropolitan areas or parts of areas that span state borders. Critics claim that sprawling and wasteful use of land, impoverished and decaying inner-city areas, and deterioration of suburban quality of life are among the adverse impacts of this lack of institutional coordination. Others argue, however, that such problems are not new and in any case are the result of factors that extend well beyond the influence of infrastructure.
Whether integrated policy is warranted, the possible content of such policy toward infrastructure, and ways to make federal infrastructure programs generally more effective and efficient, are issues that continue to spark debate. The Federal Infrastructure Strategy (FIS) is a three-year program created to provide the substantive framework for resolving these issues. Originating in the President's fiscal year 1991 budget request, the FIS is an interagency activity directed and administered by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE).2
As a part of the FIS program, the USACE requested that the National Research Council (NRC) undertake a study on measuring and improving infrastructure performance. The NRC appointed the Committee on Measuring and Improving Infrastructure Performance to conduct this study.3 This committee held its first meeting in Washington, D.C., on October 7