|“I worry that the long-term investment programs will be looked at negatively because they aren’t generating jobs right away.”
– Darrene Hackler
When the stimulus act was being debated, there was a great deal of emphasis on so-called “shovel ready” projects. But there are some elements in the program that have a somewhat longer-term focus – like broadband, health IT, the “smart grid” and high speed rail.
Their emphasis is less on creating jobs now, and more on building for the future. As a result, these programs will depend on continued focus from state and local governments, the federal government and the private sector, long after the stimulus is a distant memory, says Darrene Hackler, senior fellow at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation and an associate professor at George Mason University.
Some of the lessons to be learned about these longer-range projects emanate from broadband, which is out of the gate earlier than others because it doesn’t rely as much on federal planning and standard setting.
One thing that state and local governments can learn from the broadband experience, says Hackler, is the value of getting collaborations going and a vision set out even before the federal government has all its ducks in a row. “When the funding came down for broadband, there were states and local governments that were ahead of the game,” she says. “They were prepared to respond to the grant proposals more quickly. They had already had community meetings, developed partnerships with private and non-profit sectors, and done technology planning assessments. That’s been a big advantage.”
Long-term projects also face a profound need for the development of good metrics. With many private companies involved, there’s a great deal of proprietary data, as well as information that may involve privacy issues. But that can’t stand in the way of “being able to measure the effects,” says Hackler. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which handles part of the broadband effort, is currently developing ways to allow managers, leaders and the academic community to track usage and trends through broadband mapping grants, without jeopardizing proprietary data.
It’s also important to look at what could have been done better with broadband. Hackler believes that the broadband grant stream was not set up in a way that encouraged the collaboration of agencies. There was the Agriculture funding stream (administered by the Rural Utility Service) and the one from the Commerce Department (out of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration). “Why did we divide it?” asks Hackler.
She also believes there should have been more collaboration with the Department of Education, since the anchor tenants for broadband will be schools, universities and libraries. Greater collaboration with the Department of Labor would have provided better grounding for training workers with the necessary IT skills for high growth and emerging industry sectors.
Meanwhile, Hackler has one big fear. “I worry that the long-term investment programs will be looked at negatively because they aren’t generating jobs right away. These programs are about building a foundation for job creation. If they don’t create lots of jobs immediately, they shouldn’t be thought of as failures, but as a down-payment for the future.”
For more on broadband, Hackler’s report, “Sustaining Jobs After the Stimulus: Building on Broadband,” came out yesterday. It was published by the CGI Initiative for Collaborative Government.