A Call for Excellent Public-Private-Partnerships

07/17/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Former Governor Howard Dean and Former Mayor Stephen Goldsmith, both now affiliated with the international law firm McKenna Long & Aldridge LLP, just launched the Council of Project Finance Advisors.

The idea is to promote excellent partnerships between government and the private sector in order to answer President Obama's call "to lay a new foundation for growth." This Council will have a big umbrella, including many thought-leaders and interest groups. It will sort out best partnership practices for laying our new roads and high speed rails, creating a clean energy economy, building new schools, ensuring clean drinking water, and producing many other vital public goods.

The McKenna press release includes a call by Goldsmith to learn lessons from successful domestic and international experience with partnerships. McKenna lauds Goldsmith's own experience with public-private-partnerships: "conducting more than 80 public-private competitions which resulted in savings of more than $400 million and investment in infrastructure of more than $1 billion as mayor of Indianapolis." The Council will identify successes so that we can get on with rebuilding our infrastructure through partnerships. This is all very welcome; It will be instructive to learn who is on the Council and which projects are good models.

At the same time, one of the great things about infrastructure and public-private partnerships is that most of us are ourselves often in the best position to judge whether models are successes. People around the world, from Texas to Kuala Lumpur, from Hungary to Nairobi, from Chile to the United Kingdom have first-hand experience with partnership projects.

We can definitely help one another.

What have been the very best partnerships for delivering affordable efficient roads and rails? Living wage construction jobs? Accountability and transparent tendering? Clean drinking water?

UK rail partnerships, for instance, are promoted by many thought-leaders within the US as one of these excellent models. How are these rails to ride?

And, since we are moving away from a sub-prime mortgage-backed economy and toward a drinking water-backed one, we might also talk about which models to avoid or to learn constructive lessons from. Lessons can be learned from our collective experience with public-private-partnerships or P3s: nineteenth century railroads from the US to Mexico, toll roads from Malaysia to Hungary, and water and energy from Bolivia to Tbilisi.