Paying taxes in America is the duty of every citizen. In return we get the rule of law, protection from outside forces, mostly good infrastructure, clean air and water, and support for those unable to care for themselves. We could argue about any of those things, I suppose, but I think most would agree that federal, state, and local governments in the U.S. provide a structure that allows life to go on relatively freely. And so I don’t begrudge the money that comes out of my paycheck to fund all these services.

But, I would like to see all levels of government use these massive amounts of money to the very best of their abilities. Most government employees—our employees—take this obligation seriously and are worthy stewards. The waste that does occur is often unintentional. Still, government should be more efficient and should be making every dollar work hard for the benefit of its citizens.

When I worked for the American Concrete Institute, executive director George Leyh was tireless in his insistence that we treat the association’s money with respect. He asked us to look at it this way: when you go on a trip to Chicago or Washington for a meeting and it costs $1,000, you are spending the dues of 10 members. Could you go to those 10 members and justify having spent their dues in that manner? Was it worth it to them? Specifically, what did they get out of it?

Government employees—and anyone working for a company under a government contract—are spending taxpayer dollars and should operate under the same principles. If we get the funding to build and repair the infrastructure, we should all be doing our best to provide beautiful, durable structures in the most efficient way possible. We need to be able to look the taxpayers in the eye and say we did our best.

This article was originally featured in Concrete Construction magazine.