Friday, January 15, 2016

Private and public can both be effective

This is Joseph

So the Bertha tunneling project, led by a private contractor, was suspended after a sinkhole developed as a part of the tunnel project.  This would seem less serious if the project was not just suspended for two years due to a mechanical breakdown in the tunneling machine. 

In the same city (Seattle), a government agency doing a tunneling project under the same waterway is under budget (by about $150 million) and ahead of schedule (by six months).  Now, to be fair, the timeline for this project was rather stately, but it has still been much less plagued by problems.

Is this proof of anything.  In and of itself, not really.  What it does suggest is that specific challenges that arise on projects and, perhaps, project management can be more important than the actor who is doing the work.  After all, the slate of public works boondoggles is vast.

But it really shifts my focus to "are things well run" and "was there good planning" as being the most important metrics for whether a project is likely to go well.  So give me more success stories, for all types of projects, and I will be a happier person. 


  1. Your final paragraph hits the nail on the head.

    But I think there is a different aspect of these projects that engenders hostility towards government. That is the suspicion, in some jurisdictions well founded, that the selection of who is hired to do the work is a corrupt process influenced more by campaign contributions, kickbacks, and good old-fashioned cronyism than by due diligence.

    So when a government project stumbles, people assign high prior probability to the assumption that there was poor planning and that the contract was awarded to inept but connected parties. Such lapses are then not easily forgiven.

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