CEO Brendan Bechtel responds to the White House request for his perspective on the economy
Re-engaging America's engineering and construction workforce will be critical to restarting the U.S. economy. The engineering and construction industry is among the nation's most important economic engines. In recent years, it has produced 5% to 6% of America's gross domestic product and provided quality jobs for more than 5% of U.S. workers. Currently, this engine has been idled by the impacts of the COVID-19 crisis.
Enabling this critical sector of the economy to return to work will do more than help accelerate a near-term return to growth. By focusing on infrastructure investments, we can help secure America's economic competitiveness for the future. Infrastructure investment boosts productivity across all sectors of the economy, reducing delays, lowering costs, and eliminating drags on efficiency that disadvantage U.S. business.
We believe these goals are essential and achievable with the right actions and leadership at the federal level to allow the safe return of workers and to spur investment in badly needed new projects.
Bechtel is the largest American engineering, procurement, and construction firm and has been a trusted partner to government and industry customers around the world for more than a century. Together with our 35,000 Bechtel colleagues and 3+ million friends in the great American building trades, we look forward to doing our part to help restore our national, state, and local economies to health as safely and quickly as possible. In that spirit, we welcome the opportunity to offer the following input for your consideration.
1. Establishing widespread test and trace capabilities is a prerequisite for a safe return-to-work at scale.
Worker health and safety is and must always be our first priority. Bechtel and other companies have taken extensive steps to minimize risks. Yet many workers remain fearful of potential exposure on the job. Even at sites that remain open, absenteeism rates are high. Until a vaccine is available, only an effective system for testing and tracking virus exposures will provide companies and workers assurance at scale. The Business Roundtable's "principles for safe recovery" also underscore this need. We recommend that the federal government prioritize this capability in its recovery efforts.
2. Increasing public sector demand for projects is critical to offset the retreat of the private sector.
Demand for new private sector projects has virtually disappeared. Even projects that were awarded and ready to begin construction have been cancelled or indefinitely delayed. We recommend that the federal government identify and initiate large-scale public sector infrastructure and other projects that can put American engineering and construction talent to work while the private sector recovers. These public sector projects will stimulate broad economic demand, recovery, and employment. Engineering, construction, and infrastructure touch almost all parts of the economy at every level: federal, state and local. Creating large project opportunities will pull major sectors of the economy up and along with them while also strengthening the country's economic foundation for the future.
3. Improving the efficiency of project permitting and approvals will help accelerate the recovery in private sector demand.
As many have pointed out, significant opportunities exist to make current approval processes faster and more affordable, while continuing to ensure responsible protections of vital public interests. We recommend the federal government seek opportunities to eliminate duplicative reviews, improve inter-agency coordination, and centralize oversight of approval processes, among other steps.