Ash Center’s Stephen Goldsmith Releases Recommendations on Proposed COVID-19 Infrastructure Stimulus Legislation

April 6, 2020
Capitol hill

Cambridge, MA – Today, Professor Stephen Goldsmith, the director of the Ash Center’s Innovations in Government Program and the former mayor of Indianapolis, Indiana; released a nine-part strategy memo outlining key recommendations for a potential fourth round of COVID-19 legislation, which may be focused on infrastructure. Goldsmith argues that Washington, “needs to take advantage of this moment in time to ease the barriers to more efficiently and quickly get many of these projects off the ground.” 

In his memo, Goldsmith makes the case that any debate over a potential infrastructure package shouldn’t just be focused on funding levels. Rather, lawmakers and the White Houses should: include an expedited process that minimizes bureaucratic approvals concerning issuing building permits; resist the urge to clutter a legislative package with a bevy of new federal mandates; streamline the procurement paperwork process, encourage states to a adopt design/build/operate contracts that accelerate project delivery; and incentivize public private partnerships in social infrastructure (schools and hospitals), airports, and transit where a combination of capital and operational excellence reduces operating costs or increases net revenues. 

Specifically, Goldsmith urges lawmakers and the White House to think beyond narrow perceptions of what constitutes infrastructure spending to include such priorities as: 

  1. Broadband: Fund adequate 5G deployment in all parts of cities while addressing the “last mile” problem into the home.  

  2. Preventative Maintenance: Allow retrofitting and preventative maintenance investment in existing infrastructure. Substantial savings will be possible from ongoing IoT data analysis of pumps, sensors, and transit equipment.  

  3. Housing: Infrastructure funding should support HUD’s Rental Assistance Demonstration, which gives public housing authorities a means to improve existing public housingproperties and address deferred maintenance while enabling additional private equity investment and management 

  4. Wastewater and clean water: With many local governments facing a looming financial crisis, cities will be forced to choose between such activities as lead mitigation and other vital public expenditures. The federal government should take up the burden of funding wastewater and clean water mandates while kick starting a system that allows for more longstanding and creative solutions to the problem of who ultimately pays for these mandates. 

  5. Roads: Hundreds of thousands of miles of those roads across the country need to be dug up, the subsurface repaired, and the asphalt subsequently rebuilt.  These efforts should be fast with few reviews and would produce long-term benefit. Let's use this opportunity to transition from roads designed fifty years ago to pathways for the future that are redesigned to improve civic spaces, walkability, and bikability.  

  6. Flood protection: Too many cities are vulnerable, and the costs to all levels of government from extreme flooding will only get worse. Yet many cities cannot justify diverting funds from urgent short-term capital priorities to preventing a 100-year flood. Fund the most urgent needs with the highest pay offs in this regard. 

  7. Transit: Let's resist telling cities what to do but help them accomplish what they have prioritized. Fund the future by allowing cities to build the infrastructure and data systems to support operation and regulation of curb and sidewalk space. 

  8. Neighborhood housing infrastructure: Homes need funding for weatherization, and community groups in the hardest pressed areas need help removing blight. Funding for training and workforce should be linked to these infrastructure investments as well. 

  9. Project based municipal debt support: Cities across the country invested in strategies that created millions of hospitality jobs as part of main street, convention center, and hospitality initiatives. Venues, parking garages, and other capital investments for hospitality initiatives depend on now collapsing revenues to support these obligations. Providing resources for some form of a debt reserve fund to credit-enhance that debt will substantially relieve lost revenue and jobs.  

With time of the essence, “we can’t let bureaucracy stand in the way of this crucial effort,” Goldsmith argues in his memo. 

About Professor Stephen Goldsmith 

Stephen Goldsmith is the Daniel Paul Professor of the Practice of Government and the Director of the Innovations in American Government Program at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. He currently directs Data-Smart City Solutions, a project to highlight local government efforts to use new technologies that connect breakthroughs in the use of big data analytics with community input to reshape the relationship between government and citizen. He previously served as Deputy Mayor of New York and Mayor of Indianapolis, where he earned a reputation as one of the country's leaders in public-private partnerships, competition, and privatization. Stephen was also the chief domestic policy advisor to the George W. Bush campaign in 2000, the Chair of the Corporation for National and Community Service, and the district attorney for Marion County, Indiana from 1979 to 1990. 

About the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation   

The Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation advances excellence in governance and strengthens democratic institutions worldwide. Through its research, education, international programs, and government innovations awards, the Center fosters creative and effective government problem solving and serves as a catalyst for addressing many of the most pressing needs of the world’s citizens. For more information, visit

Contact Information  

Daniel Harsha 
Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation 

Sarah Grucza 
Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation