The concept of a report card to grade the nation’s infrastructure originated in 1988 with the congressionally chartered National Council on Public Works Improvement report, Fragile Foundations: A Report on America’s Public Works. A decade later, when the federal government indicated they would not be updating the report, ASCE used the approach and methodology to publish its first Report Card on America’s Infrastructure in 1998. With each new report – in 2001, 2005, 2009, 2013, 2017, and now 2021 – the methodology of the Report Card has been rigorously assessed so as to take into consideration all of the changing elements that affect America’s infrastructure.
In 1988, when Fragile Foundations was released, the nation’s infrastructure earned a “C,” representing an average grade based on the performance and capacity of existing public works. Among the problems identified within Fragile Foundations were increasing congestion and deferred maintenance and age of the system; the authors of the report worried that fiscal investment was inadequate to meet the current operations costs and future demands on the system. In each of ASCE’s seven Report Cards, the Society found that these same problems persist. Our nation’s infrastructure is aging, underperforming, and in need of sustained care and action.
Elected officials from both sides of the political aisle and at all levels of government regularly cite the Report Card, beginning with the very first release in 1998, when President Bill Clinton referenced the Report Card’s grade for Schools. News reports reference the Report Card on a daily basis, with mentions in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times, as well as on National Public Radio, NBC’s Today Show, 60 Minutes, CBS Evening News, and HBO’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, among many others.