The Congressional Public Private Partnerships (P3) Caucus held its first public event on Tuesday, November 19 in the Cannon House Office Building. Co-chairs Reps. Mike Rogers (R-AL) and Gerald Connolly (D-VA) were joined by caucus member John Delaney (D-MD) for an hour-long discussion entitled “Innovating public service delivery with P3s." Panelists were Porter K. Wheeler, Ph.D., P3 Policy Program at George Mason University; Drew Preston, Manager, Congressional and Public Affairs, U.S. Chamber of Commerce; Matt Feiffer, Director, Transportation Programs, American Council of Engineering Companies; and Joseph Fengler, Director Defense Logistics Policy, Honeywell.
The Caucus’s members and panelists held a wide-ranging discussion, touching on the use of P3 strategies in the defense, transportation, and education spaces for both infrastructure and services. The group addressed at length issues regarding legal authority for P3s, the “language barrier” between the private and public sectors, and cited examples of successful P3s both domestically and internationally.
Rep. Connolly highlighted “win-win” transportation P3s in Virginia, including the I-495 Express Lanes in northern Virginia and the Dulles rail line, each examples of new infrastructure financed up front by the private sector. He noted, however, a public policy challenge with P3s being the perception of a loss of direct accountability of a concessionaire to the public. Additionally, Rep. Connolly highlighted a similar public policy concern where a private company takes over existing public roads.
As a member of the Armed Services Committee, Rep. Rogers is especially interested in P3s as they relate to the military, where he has already seen an example of a successful P3 in his district. Mr. Fengler of Honeywell discussed the successful P3 between Anniston Army Depot and Honeywell, highlighting the differences between a traditional government purchase contract and a typical P3-type service contract. Rep. Rogers, however, voiced concerns he hears as a member of the Homeland Security Committee about cancelled RFPs by other agencies. He has heard that after private sector responses suggesting alternative service delivery are offered, instead of meaningful public-private partnerships being explored, the RFPs are cancelled, betraying a private perception of governments as inflexible and agency leadership difficult to approach.
The group uniformly noted the lack of unity in P3 enabling laws at the federal and state level and across different spaces, in contrast to Canada and Puerto Rico, perceived to have progressive and further developed P3 infrastructure in place. Mr. Fengler noted that the Department of Defense does not engage in the kind of decades-long contracts that may allow for additional efficiencies and “thinking big,” where state transportation agencies mostly focus on long-term projects. Mr. Wheeler of George Mason University noted that 33 states have P3 enabling laws, but no two are the same, and furthermore, there is no formal federal legal structure, which creates uncertainty for potential P3 partners seeking opportunities in the United States. Rep. Delaney noted that no panelist could identify a repository of “best practices” for P3s in the U.S.
Rep. Rogers ended the meeting by promising that the P3 Caucus would meet again, and regularly, to continue a useful discussion on the place and utility of P3s in the United States.