If they didn't teach you this in school, they should have: Success as a city, county, special district, township, or state public works leader depends on your ability to make customers care about the assets that consume much of their tax and/or rate dollars. As a government employee delivering essential services, you have a challenge other department managers don't: getting residents to be just as concerned with averting an infrastructure failure as losing police or fire coverage.

Not easy to do in a country where clean water and paved roads are standard operating procedure.

General revenues may have fallen, but expectations have not. You may have had to make some tough, unpopular, and potentially career-threatening decisions about what services can and can't continue. You may feel it's time to further challenge the accepted wisdom.

Which is why, if you're reading this at the American Public Works Association's annual convention and trade show in Denver, you'll see me at sessions that deal with squeezing more life out of assets, both physical and human, that're already stretched thin. I'm going to focus on making the most of the dollars you do have.

Not that reauthorizing the federal highway-funding program isn't important. But on a day-to-day basis, you probably spend more time responding to the wrong questions about the value of your team's efforts and resisting well-intentioned entreaties to "operate sustainably" until you're confident a particular change would be the best use of limited resources.

There are sessions on using interns, volunteers, and retirees to fill in staffing gaps.

There are sessions on communicating more effectively (and less expensively), such as in a " telephone town hall meeting."

There are sessions on the real return on investment of porous pavement, recycling programs, and other politically correct sacred cows. Same goes for alternative project-delivery methods like job-order contracting and construction manager/general contractor.

There are sessions on cost-sharing with other non-community profits.

These presentations are made by your peers — actual public works professionals who cut through the clutter to get the job done. People love to complain about government waste, but they prove the average citizen gets extraordinary value for his and her investment in public works.

- Stephanie Johnston,
Editor in Chief

Reader comments:

EPA tends to overreach. Its oversight adds significant costs to infrastructure construction with questionable benefits.

Differences with states should be settled by arbitration.

Since pollution crosses borders, a central regulatory authority is needed. Companies put profits before the health of American citizens. BP oil spill ring a bell?

As past board chair of a major potable water provider, I strongly believe and fear that EPA has too much control.

The problem is interpretation of the laws and a bureaucratic need to expand the span of authority.

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