Software development (which I do know something about) is not civil engineering, but I'd bet an investment banker's bonus that they share two key principles when it comes to scheduling and delivering:
- Engineers will provide an overly optimistic delivery date based on confidence in their skills (a confidence that, in my experience, is usually justifiable), a strong desire to develop the project, and the natural optimism that infuses the beginning of any endeavor. However, all of this inevitably results in initial schedule estimates that to succeed require near perfect execution with few unanticipated impediments.
- If the project has never been tried -- and on this scale, the berms have not been -- then all bets are off, and I mean all bets. The end result, if the project actually reaches completion, is as likely to be a counterproductive boondoggle as it is to accomplish anything positive. And in any case, it will not live up to its advance billing because the decision-makers will cut corners to avoid further delay.
The optimism of the engineers proposing the project is understandable: It's the nature of the beast. But Boob Bob Jindal has an obligation to be skeptical, to drill down (as it were) on the project milestones, to understand the pitfalls and push the engineers to prepare for them, to seek outside expertise, and -- above all -- to inject a note of realism into the proceedings. On these counts, he has failed dismally (although failure implies a degree of effort not evident in Boob Bob's approach to this project).
It's not like he hasn't been warned. Marine scientist Dr. Len Bahr has publicly questioned Jindal's the berm strategy on nine grounds:
- Absence of science
- Questionable justification
- Opportunity cost
- Environmental cost
- Changes to natural flow regime: A technical argument that the berms could well suck oil into the estuaries they are designed to protect
- Lengthy construction time
- Dubious benefits
- Better use of funds
Jindal originally estimated that the berms could be completed within six-month; now, I believe they are talking about nine months. No matter: This project is a minimum of two years out.
Jindal will blame delays on the federal bureaucracy as surely as a liberal governor would blame BP. But the project itself is always the primary source of delays; that, too, is the nature of the beast. In the case of the berms, the likely source of delay is predictable: Boob Bob's Glenn Beck-like disparagement of science will come back to haunt him and the Louisiana coast.
For a project like the berms, marine scientists and ecologists must play an instrumental role in helping the engineers identify and prepare for setbacks. Jindal has dismissed their concerns. When these concerns are inevitably realized, the engineers will have no contingency plan in place or expertise to fall back on. They'll be groping in the dark, with all of the missteps and delays that that implies.
By then, Boob Bob won't care much, as he'll be too busy running for president to worry about something as insignificant as sand berms.