Lobbying can be a force for good

11 October 2021

So, amid much anticipation, the US Senate has finally passed the US$1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill. Now, the package must clear the House, after which it will go to the president who will sign it into law.

We will see how transformational the bill turns out to be. However, the most urgently-needed infrastructure must be prioritised. It will be interesting to see how far the bill tackles the ongoing water crisis in the Southwest with its two-decades-long drought, the reduced flow of the Colorado River and the increase in population. Hopefully, tackling these problems will give the tunneling and trenchless sectors new opportunities for projects that will serve the country for decades.

But getting this far has required intense bipartisan wrangling within the various Senate committees. The compromises and concessions which ultimately shaped the bill in many policy areas were influenced by lobby pressure pushing special interests and corporate priorities.

In a letter to The Washington Post, Joan Claybrook, a former employee of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration described the lobbying for the bill as a bipartisan secret process that “resulted in opportunities for political deal-making out of the public eye and to the detriment of [the] public interest.”

But our world is far from ideal and lobbying is present in every walk of life. It is human nature to promote one’s welfare, whether at individual, group or national levels. It may sometimes result in questionable outcomes, but it is a process that underpins much of what is achieved in society as groups push to promote their own special interests.

Let’s not forget it was lobbying that ended the slave trade, and lobbying that resulted in the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964. So it can be a huge force for good. Indeed, a problem identified by one of our respondents in the infrastructure article on p15 is that the US tunneling sector - much to its detriment - has no effective lobbying power compared to other groups. Why this is so, I don’t know but it is something the industry needs to examine and then take the necessary action.

George Demetri Editor