From Maxwell Perspective...
Breaking the Ice
In advance of President Obama’s well-publicized
trip to Alaska, two Maxwell professors were invited to advise stakeholders on
David Van Slyke (left) and Sean O’Keefe at the
Anchorage summit that preceded the President’s visit.
In late summer, Barack Obama traveled to Alaska to address
climate change and commerce, while attending the GLACIER Conference in
Anchorage. He announced steps intended, according to the White House, “to
accelerate the acquisition of additional icebreakers to ensure the United
States can operate year-round in the Arctic Ocean.”
Like many presidential visits, Obama’s Alaska trip served to
draw attention to a large set of questions that the local community and other
stakeholders in the Alaskan Arctic have been debating for years — much of it
boiling down to economic opportunity versus environmental impact. In fact, just
two weeks before Obama’s visit, public leaders from Alaska (e.g., the governor)
and similarly impacted regions (e.g., the president of Iceland), along with
representatives of the business community, gathered in Anchorage for “The Alaskan Arctic: A Summit on Shipping and
Ports,” a three-day conference. Leading experts in the fields of shipping,
security, and government acquisition gathered to discuss and begin developing
reliable shipping partnerships throughout the Alaskan Arctic.
At the center of the conversation were icebreakers — large,
complicated vessels that cut paths for other ships through ice pack — and the
United States’s recommended acquisition of one or more. Among experts called to
inform on this question were Maxwell faculty members David Van Slyke and Sean
O’Keefe, who presented their analysis on procurement models.
“Smuggling tells us how people feel about
America’s relation to the world.”
— University Professor Sean O’Keefe
Their research — done with Zachary S. Huitink, a doctoral
student in public administration at Maxwell, and Trevor L. Brown, a professor
at Ohio State University — demonstrates that the Arctic is at the center of
economic and research possibilities. It holds approximately 30 percent of the
world’s undeveloped natural gas and mineral resources, valued at more than $1
Van Slyke is Maxwell’s Louis A. Bantle Chair in Business and
Government Policy and a nationally recognized expert in acquisition
alternatives — that is, innovative, efficacious ways government should make its
big purchases. O’Keefe, a Maxwell alumnus, former head of NASA, and recent
aerospace industry executive, is a University Professor and Phanstiel Chair in
Strategic Management and Leadership. They were sought out by the Arctic Circle
Shipping Task Force and the University of Alaska.
Their analysis demonstrates that, compared with other nations
active in the Arctic, America has fallen behind in economic growth and security
— due largely to this nation’s shortage of active, operational icebreakers. The
Russian Federation’s fleet currently has 40 operational icebreakers; the U.S.
fleet, only five.
Why? The main reason is that the price of an icebreaker, more
than $1 billion, challenges the processes of public procurement. Van Slyke and
O’Keefe presented four alternative strategies, ranging from a retrofit of
existing assets to new or broadened partnerships with private firms, other government
agencies, or other nations. All the options they presented have been used by
other government agencies, creating precedent.
“Each model proposed has attendant advantages, depending on
the other challenges to be considered,” says O’Keefe. “But the most efficient
business model incorporates best business practices.” He favors a lease/charter
approach. Van Slyke’s research points toward the advantages of public-private
partnership, through which an agency uses an asset (e.g, an icebreaker) on a
cooperative basis to lower costs.
According to the professors, the conference demonstrates
tangible ways scholarship serves public ends. “We were happy to give them options
to talk about,” says Van Slyke, “with the expectation that we helped create a
space for dialogue and debate.”
“The most rewarding aspect of academic research is how
it can be applied to inform debate,” O’Keefe adds. “We help inform varied
individual community interests and forge consensus around alternatives to serve
the public good.”
— Gabriela Luciano
This article appeared in the fall 2015 print edition of Maxwell Perspective; © 2015 Maxwell School of Syracuse University. To request a copy, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.