MacArthur Maze repairs

On April 29, 2007, a tank trunk caught fire on a San Francisco area freeway overpass known as the MacArthur Maze. The damage done to to the heavily-traveled freeway was extensive. Officials feared it would be closed for repairs for months. Caltrans estimated the cost would be $5.2 million. But they awarded the repair contract to C.C. Myers construction. He bid low—$867,075—but requested bonuses for finishing before the deadline set by Caltrans, the state agency in charge. They agreed to as much as $5 million in bonuses if he completed the work before June 27th. He did. The freeway overpass reopened on May 25th. Myers got the full $5 million in bonuses on top of his bid. The State of California and the people of the Bay Area were thrilled.

Bay Bridge repairs

When the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge needed extensive repairs, who ya gonna call? A football field length section of the bridge needed to be replaced. Caltrans wanted it done during the Labor Day weekend, 2007. I wonder if they would have ever set such a ridiculous deadline if they had not previously had the positive experience with C.C. Myers. He got the bridge job.

They constructed the replacement section adjacent to the section to be demolished in advance. Then, on Labor Day weekend, they closed the bridge to traffic and demolished the old section. The new section was then slid into place from the side. The bridge was supposed to reopen at 5 AM on the day after Labor Day. It opened eleven hours early, around 6 PM on Labor Day.

Northridge Earthquake Damage to Santa Monica Freeway

Myers also repaired a section of the Santa Monica Freeway in Southern California in record time. The contract called for 140 days with a $200,000 per day bonus for getting it done faster. Myers did it in 66 days.

The people of California are ready to elect C.C. Myers president. A San Francisco Chronicle editorial proposed him for widening the Panama Canal or sending a space ship to Mars. A letter to the editor wants him put in charge of Iraq.

I respect Mr. Myers’ skill at high-speed highway construction and repair. But my main point in writing about him and Iraq is to contrast a competent, successful entrepreneur with the military. Here are a couple of other examples.

Burt Rutan’s Scaled Composites SpaceShipOne

On October 4, 2004, Burt Rutan’s Scaled Composites SpaceShipOne broke the altitude record set by NASA’s X-15 and won the $10 million dollar Ansari X-Prize. Basically, a private civilian company built and flew twice their own space shuttle. I do not see the amount of money it cost them in the news accounts on line. But it is safe to say it was about one tenth of one percent of what the federal government spent doing the same thing with the Space Shuttle. Their “astronaut” solo pilot was 62 years old.

When SpaceShipOne first landed after returning from space, one of its owners held up a sign that said “Space Ship One; NASA, Zero.”

Wollman Rink in Central Park

For six years, the Wollman Rink in Central Park in Manhattan was closed for repairs. New York developer Donald Trump was disgusted by the delays. The City of New York Parks and Recreation Department was the entity trying to fix it. Trump offered to do it himself—not his normal construction project—for $2.975 million and did in three and a half months in 1986.

But you don’t need these spectacular examples of civilian businessmen showing up government. You can see it every day in your own neighborhood: luncheonettes, fast food restaurants, roofers, auto mechanics, bakeries, and so forth who produce products and services of far higher quality at infinitely lower cost than government. Indeed, the government is often totally incapable of providing certain products or services it sets out to provide—like winning the Vietnam War, the “war” on poverty, the “war” on cancer, the Crusader howitzer. The list of botched government projects. Then there are the occasional public scandals about how much the government pays for things. The waste is daily. Only the media reports about it are intermittent.

Yet century after century we keep expecting the government to become competent and efficient. Politicians run again and again on a platform of eliminating “waste, fraud, and abuse” in government, but they never do.

One of the definitions of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Putting government bureaucrats in charge of wars has not worked since 1945, and, arguably, it was not the government lifers who won that war, it was the draftees and non-career volunteers “for the duration” who came from the get-the-job-done civilian world who made the war effort a success in World War II.

General Eisenhower himself said Higgins of Higgins Boat fame—the guy who designed the landing craft used on D-Day, won the war. Other noted the amazing contributions of civilians like the Kaiser Shipyards.

Why is this? Read my article on process orientiation (government) versus results (private business, coaches) orienation.

I appreciate informed, well-thought-out constructive criticism and suggestions.

John T. Reed

John T. Reed’s Succeeding book, in part, relates lessons learned about succeeding in life from being in the military

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