Over on American.com our pal Jonah Goldberg points out something that’s been on my mind for a while (darn you Jonah for beating me to it! darn you all to heck!), namely, that “shovel ready jobs” do exist, but “What we don’t have is shovel ready government.” Among other stories told about this misadventure is the greenie “weatherization” projects that were held up for months while the Department of Labor cogitated the proper union-friendly prevailing wage rates for different labor markets.
The contrast I’ve always had in mind was the aftermath of California’s 1994 Northridge earthquake, which collapsed some key freeway segments in LA as well as destroying a lot of buildings. Normally there is a long and bureaucratic review process for freeway maintenance, contract bid periods, hearings, and so forth. Gov. Pete Wilson, with the stroke of a pen, waived the entire process, let out no-bid contracts (with a twist) with a simple instruction: get started today. And the freeways were rebuilt and running again with a few weeks, instead of months. (Contrast this with the new Oakland Bay Bridge, whose replacement span is still not finished, more than 20 years after a segment fell down in the 1989 earthquake, in part because of federal involvement in the “process.”) The twist in Wilson’s no-bid highway contracts was simple: he offered performance bonuses for completing the work ahead of schedule.
Obama could have waived much of the bureaucratic process that held up getting the shovels going with the stroke of a pen on an executive order, and he could have offered performance bonuses for meeting hiring targets more quickly. If the economic earthquake of 2008 didn’t create conditions for speed and cutting red tape, nothing ever will for The One. That would require the business imagination of an evil Republican.