Public service gift, social infra goal

Understanding how AECOM public-private partnership (PPP; P3) executive Samara Barend wound up with her first name requires a passing acquaintance with the New Testament. 

“I was ‘The Chosen One,’” Barend jokes, revealing that her father Harold and expectant mother Sally amalgamated ‘Samara’ from the parable of the Good Samaritan as a result of hearing a gospel reading at Our Lady of Sorrows Church in Vestal, New York.

Given the theological baggage of her name, “I had no choice but to be good,” she says, giggling.  

A built-in predisposition to strive for the greater welfare has bolstered Barend in her current undertaking: the Performance Based Building Coalition (PBBC) is an industry group numbering AECOM, Kiewit, Meridiam, Nossaman and more among its members.          

In April, Barend and PBBC went to Washington to educate the US House Committee on Ways and Means about using private sector capital and expertise to build social infrastructure.

‘HIGHLY POLITICAL’

When it came time to choose her vocation, the idea of public service, which Barend calls her “lifeblood,” figured large.

While still a graduate student in public policy at Harvard, Barend campaigned to convert State Route 17 in New York to Interstate 86. She also worked for Hillary Clinton in her successful 2000 bid for the US Senate.

In 2004 Barend, fresh out of school, had herself decided to run for public office. It would prove character-building, not to mention instructive.

Barend, a Democrat, ran for Congress in the 29th district of New York state. She lost to conservative Mark Assini and Republican Randy Kuhl.

“I was 25,” Barend recalls, “and it was a tough time to be a Democrat in a conservative ward, but the experience was great.”

That experience, she says, served to mold her career, first with engineering firm STV advising former New York Governor David Patterson on asset maximisation; then with support services giant AECOM, where Barend is now vice president of strategic P3 development for North America.

“You learn how to articulate a message,” Barend explains, reflecting on what her “highly political background” has taught her.

For Barend, messaging is critical for winning public trust, as well as raising political awareness of private investment in infrastructure.  

“I have been able to be tuned in and more sensitive to what we put across. A PPP is not a simplistic project delivery tool – being able to communicate and conduct outreach is crucial.

“You can be the best advisor, but even the best advisor cannot fix a politically broken project,” she says. 

TAX REFORM

Backed by publicly traded AECOM, PBBC founder Barend is leveraging her communication training and political savvy to stump for social infrastructure on Capitol Hill.

To Barend, tax code reform is needed to ease private investment in social infrastructure. In particular, the PBBC is pushing for applicable private activity bond (PAB) use, as well as a TIFIA (Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act) for social infrastructure.

PBBC is urging Congress to combine private bond funding for public building construction with tax-exempt financing in a design, building, finance, and maintain (DBFM) model.

PBBC is also pushing Congress to pen BIFIA, or the Building Infrastructure Financing and Innovation Act, which would be based on TIFIA and provide subordinated debt financing. 

“We want to serve as a catalyst in the US market for social infrastructure,” Barend says. 

The Coalition has found the response in Washington encouraging, Barend notes.

“The feedback has been great,” she says. “We are pushing hard and reaching out. We believe the time is now.”