Gilbert F. White
a flood control project in South Dakota or an improvement in a levee in the
I was constantly searching my mind and the minds of others for frameworks
in which one could arrive at a judgment of feasibility. This was a very
exciting time because [Columbia University economist John Maurice] Clark
had just come out with his work on the economics of public works. The first
rudimentary efforts were being made on benefit-cost analysis, most of which
were in Corps 308 reports and some Bureau of Reclamation reports, and I
constantly saw those. So it was an easy and natural shift for me to try to
work out a framework for examining what was happening on floodplains.
Q: Your concern for trying to take into account the national desirability of a local
project strikes me as if it's still very much with us. And in fact the term that
popped up in the 1970s was "national scoping. " Is that what we're talking
about, in a sense? An early accounting of what later becomes what people
like Oliver Houck . . . do you know Ollie Houck in the National Wildlife
A: I know him.
Q: He used to talk an awful lot about this concern about national scoping, not
only in terms of projects but in terms of regulations, too. Regulatory 404.
So it seems like you may have been the father of this kind of concern.
A: Oh, no. It was a concern of many people at the time. We sat around
discussing it in late hours, at night, at lunches. One of the frequent
troublesome questions was how does the body politic arrive at judgments as
to what is in the national interest, and to what extent it can rely on the
evaluations of the local people who are concerned. This lands you right into
the whole question of cost sharing and of the wisdom of market decisions
Q: I was going to say, given your concerns then, what did you think of early
cost-benefit analysis? Did you think these were valid analyses? And what
about their concern or lack of concern for what we now call intangible