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Bertha Lewis, ACORN CEO and Chief Organizer, on Infrastructure-Spending Transparency

Posted by Infra on Tuesday, July 14th, 2009

There are few issues that touch as many aspects of our daily lives as the questions surrounding infrastructure in the United States. The emphasis on “shovel ready” projects as part of the economic recovery package is only the most recent example of infrastructure’s role in the political and economic conversations happening across the country.

Before that, a host of stories in the media called attention to the challenges we face on this issue. Whether it was a major bridge collapse in Minnesota, the under-reported stories of sinkholes opening up from coast to coast due to faulty water mains, or the very visible failure of the levees in New Orleans, we have seen the cost that neglecting these major systems brings upon us.

But infrastructure isn’t just visible problems like crumbling bridges, swallowed-up city blocks, or a city underwater. It is the power lines that bring energy into our communities and homes; it is the buildings that make up our public school system or the public health system; it is street improvements that slow traffic and improve safety; it is the public playground and the state and national park systems.

One thing most of these examples share is the requirement of significant invest of money in building and maintenance. Another is the fact that most of the dollars that create and repair these projects are public. This means we are all investing in these projects, which means that we should all have a voice in how the dollars are allocated and spent. And we should have a means of accountability, a way of ensuring transparency and minimizing fraud and abuse. We at ACORN believe that it is fundamental to the success of any program that invests significant public dollars in the complex projects required to meet our infrastructure needs for there to be public comment and public discussion along with the significant involvement of those people who will be most affected by the projects.

Any programs that invest in our infrastructure must come with extensive public comment and oversight. Without accountability, the potential for nepotism, corruption, and waste saps the impact of the projects in the communities that desperately need them.

Bertha Lewis is the Chief Executive Officer and Chief Organizer of ACORN, the largest community organization in the country. A 16-year veteran of the organization, Ms. Lewis was most recently the Executive Director of ACORN’s New York affiliate and is a founding Co-Chair of the New York Working Families Party.

Ms. Lewis is one of 10 national recipients of the 2004 Citizen Activist Award of the Gleitsman Foundation for her work in public education reform.  Ms. Lewis received the 2005 New York State Black and Puerto Rican Legislators, Inc. Leon Bogues award for community and political activism. Ms Lewis was named by Crain’s magazine as one of the 100 Most Influential Women of New York 2007, and one of the “ Influentials” in politics by New York magazine 2006.

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