Former HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros joined Yahoo Finance Live to break down why what's happening in Texas is a prime example of why the government needs to invest more money into infrastructure.
SEANA SMITH: The Biden administration says that it's committed to working with states to improve the country's infrastructure. So here to talk about what some of those priorities should be, we want to bring in Henry Cisneros. He's a former HUD Secretary under President Clinton. Mr Cisneros, thank you so much for joining us this afternoon. I understand you're helping the Biden administration identify infrastructure targets. Let's just start, though, with the dire situation in your home state of Texas right now. What does that tell us about how we should be reinvesting in our infrastructure?
HENRY CISNEROS: Well, what I think Texas has experienced this week affirms the need to really think about our infrastructure, its adequacy for the future, whether we plan for all eventualities. This situation in Texas has gone beyond what you might call uncomfortable or inconvenient. It's now life and death matters. When people are without power for a considerable length of time, when they're without water, it gets very serious very quickly.
We take infrastructure for granted. This is a case example of how infrastructure is essential to the functioning of our cities and to their progress. Just this week in Texas, we saw, first, glitches in the power generation system-- frozen lines at gas plants and at wind turbines-- leading then to the need to allocate power around the state. Some of that resulted in cutting off electricity to water pump stations, which then could not pump water, or if they did, at low pressure, which allowed contamination of the lines. And we found then that people could not get water.
The implications for people were lack of heat, lack of refrigeration for food, lack of refrigeration for medicines, medical problems. I just heard this morning of a case where a kidney dialysis center had to close its doors, was unavailable for treatment for people who need it three times a week. And they're going on five days since they've had treatments. Special centers have had to be set up to take critical cases. So infrastructure really, really matters.
ADAM SHAPIRO: Secretary Cisneros, we all agree with this. And I'm sorry to date us, but I've been covering infrastructure-- in the '90s, it was bridges falling and the nation's highways. At the beginning of this century, it was water systems, then it moved on to the grid. What's going to change this time, because we've never really funded to the degree that politicians have said we needed to. So why now will we get the funding that's necessary?
HENRY CISNEROS: I think there's a number of things. First of all, the Biden administration has made it a priority. And it's pretty clear they're going to push for a bipartisan infrastructure initiative. And that makes a huge difference. Secondly, we're at a point of inflection with respect to infrastructure in which it is no longer good enough to just do more of the same. Technology has made it possible to apply technology to infrastructure so that you see new ways of handling road congestion, the conversion to renewable energy, things like broadband and communications that are needed in telemedicine, in providing education during the pandemic.
So the technology has changed things. And then I'd say thirdly, it's become very clear that this is an issue of national competitiveness, of national productivity. We're behind other parts of the world in terms of the quality of our infrastructure. And other nations with whom we are competing in trade-- for example, the Chinese-- have converted infrastructure into a weapon of world trade competition. They are not only building modern cities in China with 200 mile-an-hour high speed rail, but they're also using infrastructure and building in places where they want to build trading relationships in Africa, and Latin America, and other parts of Asia.
So it's very clear this is a national priority that involves jobs. It involves preparing for climate change. It involves economic mobility that we saw this summer is so critical in our country there's a lot of problems. That infrastructure contributes to. It's not the silver bullet, but I think most Americans intuitively know it's critically important. And we've got to step up.
SEANA SMITH: Well, secretary, in wrapping this up then, how about the importance of the projects being chosen and executed by local leaders, rather than it being directed by the federal government? Why is that so critical in achieving success in this?
HENRY CISNEROS: Well, I think it's important to understand what projects are priorities for the people who know their communities best and know what their communities need. Local officials all over America are setting priorities for what they want their cities to be. And they know what infrastructure they need. So the old style decision-making, where it goes top down, where we start with federal cabinet departments or even the congressional committees, and water projects come out of EPA, and river and ports projects come out of the Corps of Engineers, and rail projects come out of the Railway Administration, et cetera-- is different from creating a system where it's possible to at least consult, at least understand what the priorities are out across the country.
We're very fortunate that this administration is staffed with an unusual number of people who have local experience, like Pete Buttigieg, former Mayor of South Bend now at transportation. Marcia Fudge, Secretary of HUD was the mayor of Warrensville, Ohio. Marty Walsh, Secretary of Labor, was the mayor of Boston. We have governors-- Gina Raimondo of Rhode Island, Governor Granholm of Michigan, and Vilsack of Iowa in the administration at Agriculture, at Energy, and Commerce.
A former school superintendent is the Secretary of Education, and a former environmental official in North Carolina is the Secretary of the EPA. So that is the kind of bottom-up thinking that can reach in a special way out to the nation through the US Conference of Mayors, through the National League of Cities, advocacy groups. Let's find out what we really need, and let's this time not build bridges to nowhere.