“There’s really no one in the center saying, ‘Stop the talking points and leave the spin at the door. Let’s talk solutions.’”
Brigham McCown tells InsideSources that his new organization, the Alliance for Innovation and Infrastructure (AII), is looking to fill that void on issues ranging from energy and the environment to transportation to telecommunications.
“We want to add to the conversation in a way that doesn’t add to the noise of this town,” says McCown, who will serve as Chairman of AII. Outside the Beltway, people are tired of the constant politicization of every issue. Liberals versus conservatives, industry versus political activists—each side has armies of lobbyists and communicators contributing to the cacophony. Even some think tanks have turned to focus more on the noise than on finding policy solutions. McCown explains that AII “attempts to reintroduce civil public policy discussion,” which he notes is a goal lacking of most groups in DC.
McCown was a top official in the Department of Transportation during George W. Bush’s Administration. He would go on to be appointed first acting administrator and interim CEO of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA).
In addition to McCown, AII has plans to announce board members representing both sides of the aisle, as well as representatives of the academic community. There will also be an advisory council comprised of former government officials, innovators, academics, and private sector leaders.
Scott Flukinger, a Texas lawyer specializing in coalition and non-profit management, will be overseeing AII’s policy research.
McCown has been thinking about starting AII since leaving government several years ago. He says he’s spoken with experts inside and outside government to ask: what do we need?
The answer, AII, will be a think tank and bipartisan roundtable, which will have a 501(c)(3) tax classification. AII will also be forming a 501(c)(4) advocacy arm, but McCown says advocacy is not an immediate objective. There is already enough advocacy in this town, he explains. People want solutions.
AII’s goal will be to identify issues that should be easily tackled but have been continuously kicked down the road by Congress. McCown says their aim is to start small; no ‘pie in the sky’ solutions.
One place to start, McCown suggests, may be the Highway Trust Fund. Congress has failed to deal with the issue for two decades, even as the nation’s infrastructure has continued to decay. The Highway Trust Fund is fueled by the federal gas tax, which has not been raised since 1993. Some would like to see the tax indexed to inflation. Others think tolling is a possible solution. And some on the right would prefer to see the gas tax devolved to the states. Still, there’s broad agreement that the system is currently flawed, and AII will attempt to find common ground.
McCown, a former Navy pilot, also pointed to the need for the FAA to upgrade air-traffic control. Routing is currently inefficient and hasn’t kept pace with modern technology. This is one frequent cause of flight delays.
McCown ticked off a range of other policies that AII will explore: cyber security, water quality, energy transportation. A number of Department of Transportation programs are up for reauthorization by Congress. He also noted underground utility infrastructure, which remains remarkably low tech. Flags and spray paint are still used to mark gas and electric lines. It seems obvious this should be upgraded to be performed by smartphone and tablet apps.
“Whether it’s managing congestion, addressing aging infrastructure, or securing facilities, we must focus on creating practical, real-world solutions for all of our nation’s infrastructure challenges,” McCown said.
AII is setting out with the lofty goal of finding common ground in a divided Washington. But its recognition of its limitations and the strategy by its leadership to target the issues where it can have an impact make this a startup worth watching.