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White House Seeks Streamlined Process

Thursday, September 24, 2015

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Responding to the sense that lengthy federal permitting and review activities hamper improvement of the nation’s infrastructure—as well as its global competitiveness—the White House unveiled Tuesday (Sept. 22) its new plan to improve the process.

mihau
© iStock.com / mihau

The White House unveiled a set of guidelines meant to help speed up the review and permitting process thought to hold up critical infrastructure projects across the country.

Building on the administration’s May 2014 comprehensive plan to modernize infrastructure permitting, the set of guidelines is meant to facilitate interagency communication, increase the number of projects in play, and better track permitting activity via the use of the updated Federal Infrastructure Projects Permitting Dashboard.

Tuesday’s announcement lays out the new set of requirements federal agencies will use to report project schedule metrics for infrastructure projects beginning in October 2015.

Ultimately, the White House hopes this will help make projects a reality more quickly and make the process more transparent. By doing so, it also will enable real-time access to progress reports and status of the steps in the process.

Reduce Time, Improve Outcomes

In a White House blog post, plan representatives Shaun Donovan, director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and Christy Goldfuss, managing director of the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), say that the plan’s goals are not only to reduce the total review and permitting decision times, but also to produce measurably better environmental and community outcomes. 

The Permitting Dashboard plays a significant role in the streamlining of processes. The Dashboard was developed to improve the accountability, transparency, and efficiency of processes by facilitating interagency coordination and public awareness for major infrastructure projects that might entail a long review period based on size, complexity and significance.

As part of the new program, the Dashboard has been updated to make it easier to find information about projects as they progress through the Federal environmental permitting and review process. New features and functionality will continue to be added.

According to Donovan and Goldfuss, since the Dashboard was launched in 2012, it has helped to expedite review and permitting of more than 50 specific major infrastructure projects—including the Tappan Zee Bridge. Of the bridges, transit, railways, waterways, roads and renewable energy projects in review, more than 30 of those projects have completed the permitting process, they said.

Schedules, Milestones and More

Agencies involved in permitting and review are now required to post project schedules—including all needed federal permits and reviews—and all steps throughout the review and permitting process.

Updating the specific review/permitting schedules and milestones will be required for each project as well. Milestones include target and actual application dates; permit issuances or approvals; release of draft and final Environmental Impact Statements; and final decisions.

Donovan and Goldfuss say that the new guidance will expand the scope of projects posted to the Dashboard as it calls on agencies to track information for all infrastructure projects that require federal funding, permits, notices of decision, rights-of-way, etc. Objective criteria will be used to help call out those projects that might be more complex or have a significant environmental impact.

groveb
© iStock.com / groveb

The Permitting Dashboard currently includes infrastructure projects such as bridges, transit, railways, waterways, roads and renewable energy projects; the new guidelines look to expand that.

“Building an evidence-based understanding of current federal permitting and review processes will also help identify ways to make them more effective, efficient and timely,” the duo says.

Agencies and Sectors

According to the team's “Guidance Establishing Metrics for the Permitting and Environmental Review of Infrastructure Projects” memo, the guidelines apply to the 11 federal agencies that play a major role in the related processes for infrastructure projects. They include:

  • Advisory Council on Historic Preservation;
  • United States Department of Agriculture;
  • United States Department of the Army;
  • United States Department of Commerce;
  • United States Department of Defense;
  • United States Department of Energy;
  • United States Department of Homeland Security;
  • United States Department of Housing and Urban Development;
  • United States Department of the Interior;
  • United States Department of Transportation; and
  • United States Environmental Protection Agency.

The guidelines also relate to a specific subset of infrastructure projects, i.e., those that receive federal funding or seek a federal permit, including:

  • Surface transportation, including highway, rail and transit projects;
  • Airport capital improvement projects;
  • Ports and waterways;
  • Water resource projects;
  • Renewable energy generation;
  • Electricity transmission;
  • Storm-water infrastructure;
  • Broadband Internet; and
  • Pipelines (except those under Federal Energy Regulatory Commission oversight).

“While agencies tasked with these responsibilities strive to fulfill them in a timely manner that delivers the best outcomes,” the team writes, “opportunities exist to further improve the efficiency and quality of review, which would cut review timelines while also improving environmental and community outcomes.”

   

Tagged categories: Airports; Bridges; Government; Infrastructure; Infrastructure; North America; Program/Project Management; Roads/Highways; Wastewater Plants

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