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Educational Requirements for Civil Infrastructure Managers: What Should They Know and When Should They Know It?

Author: Cameron Gordon

"There was a time, so it is said in the legends, when managing civil infrastructure systems was a simple matter. You needed a bridge built to connect, say, the growing City of Brooklyn with its neighbor, New York, across the river, and you simply built it. You had expanding neighborhoods which required sewer and water mains and you built those. Politicians made the deals as far as facility siting, and usually politicians ran the contracting. Public works managers in those days generally supervised the building and then ran the systems once they were built. The best people for such a job were generally civil engineers.


Time went on and public administration became professionalized and corruption lost its vogue. Now there arose a class of professional technocratic public managers untainted by graft, unable to be bought. They became, or tried to become, the people who made the deals and let the contracts, this time with the public interest in mind, not personal gain. The public works managers — well, they still had to supervise the building and still had to operate and maintain the system once it was built and this still was done best by civil engineers.


This is a description of history that is surely far too simplistic. The past was not that uncomplicated and the present is not as complicated as it seems. But two things are certain as far as public works management is concerned: public works managers, as is the case for all public managers, are being called upon to be at least a jack, if not a master, of multiple trades, more so than in even the recent past; and higher education for public works managers is being challenged to keep up with these expanding and shifting demands.


This commentary will discuss what these new demands consist of and then make some specific proposals as to how traditional civil engineering and public administration curricula may need to shift to meet these demands."

Date Created: November 1999; Date Posted: April 2006






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