The Broadening of American Infrastructure — Or Not

The Biden administration has proposed a bold new infrastructure plan that includes road, bridges, airports, broadband, people and more. What’s in the plan — and what’s next?

A highway overpass overlaid with data and icons indicating infrastructure.
Shutterstock.com/metamorworks
Suddenly, infrastructure is all the rage.

With both the left and the right of U.S. politics agreeing that new infrastructure spending is needed, the question now becomes: define infrastructure.

According to AP News, President Biden’s plan goes “beyond roads and bridges: President Joe Biden is trying to redefine infrastructure not just as an investment in America the place, but in its workers, families and people.”

Here’s a roundup of some of the stories surrounding this issue:

USA Today: “The nation needs Bidens bold, futuristic infrastructure plan: Microsoft president

“At a company like Microsoft, we see first-hand that the technology of our time is creating new opportunities and challenges. To make the most of technology’s future, the United States again needs a bold infrastructure plan that will create a springboard for new jobs, sustained competitiveness and broader prosperity. While many details and the need for compromise lie ahead, we believe President Biden’s American Jobs Plan, or AJP, points in the right direction.”

TheHill: “Why President Biden is all-in in infrastructure

“Popular with voters (if not politicians) across the ideological spectrum, the infrastructure bill would provide billions of dollars to upgrade and modernize roads, mass transit, bridges, airports, schools, hospitals, reservoirs and water pipes, federal buildings, manufacturing plants, the electric grid, and broadband access; facilitates a shift from fossil fuels to greener sources of energy; and expands funding on research and development.”

Vox:Republicans and Democrats agree on the need for an infrastructure bill. That’s about all they agree on.

“Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH), a moderate Republican and part of the Gang of 10, said members of both parties have been meeting frequently, and that he believes a bipartisan agreement can be reached. The Gang of 10 are Republicans who worked with Democrats on the COVID-19 relief bill, though no compromise was reached, and whose votes are necessary in order to reach the 60-vote threshold needed to overcome a filibuster. …

“On the Democratic side, White House chief of staff Ron Klain doubled down on an emerging idea within the Biden White House — that bipartisanship means support of the majority of Americans, not Republicans in Congress.”

WKRN.com:Senator Hagerty battens down President Biden’s infrastructure bill during quarry visit

“Tennessee’s freshman senator met with about dozens of workers at the Vulcan Quarry in West Nashville. Hagerty is pushing President Joe Biden to focus on what Republicans are calling ‘traditional infrastructure.’

‘“We should only be putting projects in place that are going to have a real benefit and a payback for taxpayers; roads, highways, bridges, waterways, all of those are the types of projects that are conducive to that type of payback,’ Hagerty said.”

National Review: Republicans Are Being Lured into an Infrastructure Trap

“Why would any sentient conservative participate in this deception? Biden’s bill has as little to do with genuine infrastructure as his COVID-relief bill had to do with the pandemic. Approximately 7 percent of spending in the bill is aimed at boosting roads and bridges, or projects traditionally viewed as infrastructure by the public. Besides, are conservatives interested in further nationalizing green policy, or building more useless choo-choo-train tracks, or bailing out unions again? Are they interested in continuing to participate in the creation of bloated spending baselines? As it is, the United States already spends somewhere around $440 billion each year on infrastructure.”

What’s Included in President Biden’s Infrastructure Plan?

According to Whitehouse.gov, The American Jobs Plan, or AJP for short, proposes these broad initiatives (with many more details provided on the website):

  • Fix highways, rebuild bridges and upgrade ports, airports and transit systems.
  • Deliver clean drinking water, a renewed electric grid, and high-speed broadband to all Americans.
  • Build, preserve and retrofit more than 2 million homes and commercial buildings, modernize our nation’s schools and child-care facilities, and upgrade veterans’ hospitals and federal buildings.
  • Solidify the infrastructure of our care economy by creating jobs and raising wages and benefits for essential home care workers.
  • Revitalize manufacturing, secure U.S. supply chains, invest in R&D, and train Americans for the jobs of the future.
  • Create good-quality jobs that pay prevailing wages in safe and healthy workplaces while ensuring workers have a free and fair choice to organize, join a union, and bargain collectively with their employers.

What About Cybersecurity in the Infrastructure Plan?

Last week, Politico made the following statement and then asked this question: “$2 trillion can build a lot of infrastructure. But can the U.S. secure it?

“Biden’s $2 trillion-plus American Jobs Plan does not mention the need to protect new and upgraded infrastructure from hackers or propose any funding for this task, but experts and former government officials told POLITICO that it was critical that the final bill include significant cybersecurity spending."

However, later in the article we see this: “A White House spokesperson told POLITICO that the Biden administration would ‘integrate cyber with the design and implementation of the [American Jobs Plan] with investments in cybersecurity for the electric grid and other infrastructure.’”

MSSPalert.com added: “Cybersecurity takes a backseat in President Biden’s proposed $2.25 trillion infrastructure package with no money allocated to defend the country from cyberattacks on critical infrastructure targets, analysis shows.

“Considering the proposal, which is unlikely to garner bipartisan support, calls for roughly $100 billion to create new jobs and develop more clean electricity, the White House has doubtless set itself up for some hefty criticism from legislators for its absence of additional cybersecurity-designated funding.”

Meanwhile, the Biden administration issued a 100-day plan to protect the U.S. power grid, which Mark Weatherford described here in Forbes. Mark recommends that utility operators take a hard look at the 100-day plan and consider these three areas:

“1. The 100-day plan calls for owners and operators of utilities to ‘enhance their detection, mitigation and forensic capabilities.’ This will only be possible through new investment so CIOs, CISOs and electric utility technology leaders should begin reviewing their current technology and identify potential solutions to achieve these capabilities.

“2. The 100-day plan calls for utilities ‘to identify and deploy technologies and systems that enable near real time situational awareness and response capabilities.’ In addition to looking at new technologies, CIOs and CISOs should review and update their security policies that govern organizational situational awareness and incident response.

“3. The Department of Energy’s request for information (RFI) is an unprecedented opportunity for the electric utility industry to provide direct input and collaborate with the government to shape the future of supply chain security.”

Final Thoughts

It remains to be seen which definition of infrastructure ultimately wins out in the coming months. Which projects will get funded and which will not?

I have written on this topic many times over the past decade, during both the Biden and Trump administrations.

What is clear is that infrastructure has been promoted to center stage, and everyone is watching (and many are trying to join) the show.
Daniel J. Lohrmann is an internationally recognized cybersecurity leader, technologist, keynote speaker and author.
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